St Petersburg Times

A day on the job
PAUL KOLCUN: 51, Firefighter, Station No. 7, 6975 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg
Published March 30, 2005

How long have you worked as a firefighter?

31 years, all with St. Pete. I was at Station 3 on the south side for 25 years. I've been out here about 51/2 years.

Is this your full-time job?

Yes. I quit working a part-time job. I worked as a fire mechanic at Seminole Fire Department for about eight years and for other fire agencies as a mechanic, but I gave that up. Now I have a little farm out in Plant City and that's where I devote all my time on my days off.

What is your work schedule like?

Our schedule is 24 hours on, and then we're off 48 hours. So we start at 8 in the morning and leave at 8 the next morning. We used to work a 56-hour workweek, but now we work a 52-hour workweek.

How did you get interested in being a firefighter?

I always wanted to do it, ever since I was a kid. But I went to school to learn to be a jet engine mechanic up in Pittsburgh. I was sitting in class one day and there was a fire station across the street from the building we were in and they got a call, and they went out with all the sirens going. I got up in the middle of class and walked out and (decided) then to pursue being a firefighter.

How does your workday start?

We come in at 8 o'clock in the morning when our shift starts and every station will have a roll call. The officer will sit down with the crew and they'll go over any new memos or policy changes, they'll give you your assignments, what truck you're on, and what your duties will be for the day.

Does everybody chip in to keep the station clean?

While the drivers are out cleaning their trucks, the rest of the crew is inside cleaning the station, doing typical housework. Cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing the floors, mopping, emptying the trash. I cook here, so I have to plan my menu.

Is it hard to plan a menu between fire calls?

We have five people here so we pitch in $10 each for food. . . . We take our firetruck to the store to shop, and if we get a call while we're at the store, you leave the grocery cart and run out . . . which happens often. I make a lot of soups and things that we can heat up later if we need too.

How many emergency calls does this station average a day?

I would say here at Station 7, the average on the engine might be five runs a shift. And yet we may have 15 calls on the engine another day.

What is the hardest part of the job?

A lot of our calls are at night and the hardest part of the job for me right now, with me being in my 50s, is getting up at night. When you're young, you can run all night, you're up and you don't care. As you get older, you appreciate your sleep. We almost always get woke up at least three to four times after midnight.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I always wanted to help people and do that kind of work. I get a lot of satisfaction out of being a fireman.

What kind of calls do you get from this station?

Here we get a lot of medical calls. Our rescue truck runs a lot of medical calls, and when they go out, we're the next truck to go. We do basic life support, until the paramedics show up. We get a lot of auto accidents out here because of the territory and the bridges.

What geographic area does Station 7 cover?

Our territory goes to 94th Avenue N and 46th Avenue N, and from the interstate (east) to the water. But we will run all the way out to the bridges. Sometimes we run with Lealman and Pinellas Park.

What are the biggest hazards of your job?

The biggest threat right now is bioterrorism. That's on everybody's mind. We're training for that as much as we can. . . . But going out on any call you always have the possibility of being in an (vehicle) accident, with someone crashing into you. Then once you get to the fire, there's always the possibility of getting hurt. There are just so many unknowns.

What equipment are you required to wear?

If it comes in as anything to do with a fire, we have to put on what we call our protective turnout gear. That includes our boots, our pants, and a (protective) hood and coat. Then you put your air tank rig on, so when you come out of the truck, it will all be attached. We'll go in with a helmet on, gloves and a flashlight . . . and a forcible entry tool.

What kind of personality traits do you need for this job?

Well, you have to be able to take kidding a lot, it's just part of the job. A lot of the new people coming on, they've never been in a situation where they have to be around the same people for 24 hours at a time. It's like being at home with a bunch of brothers and sisters; you have to learn how to get along.

How much money do you make?

I'm at top pay, so I'm like at $48,000 or $49,000 a year.

Any memorable tales from the trenches?

Well, 15 years ago I was shot on this job. I was working out of Station 3 and went on a call and we were going down 22nd Street and Fairfield Avenue and I got shot in the chest and the hands with a shotgun. I was riding in the back, I had all my gear on and it blew the window out of the truck. Somebody stood on the street and aimed right into the firetruck as we went by. Now that was an eye-opener.

[Last modified March 30, 2005, 01:03:17]