Name: Jason J.
Hometown: Cookeville, TN
REFLECTION ON THE JOB
I’ve been around the emergency services for most of my life. My brother’s been in since 1988. I remember riding along with him, feeling an odd sense of power when we’d turn on the lights and dart in and out of traffic.
But it wasn’t until the fall of 1999 that I realized how much I wanted that career for myself. I was 20 years old and all I wanted to do was hang out with my then-girlfriend. (What 20 year old with a girlfriend doesn’t want to do just that?) So, while the rest of the family, except for my mother went camping, I stayed at home and watched a movie with my girlfriend. She left around midnight and then I went to sleep. At about 4 a.m. my mom woke up to get some water and she noticed the house was filled with smoke. She ran upstairs to my bedroom, on the way passing the living room, where fire was crawling up a wall up to the ceiling.
She made it to my bedroom and tried to wake me up. I was so zonked out, she was slapping me, screaming at me. I finally woke up and realized the emergency. I told her to call 911 and we went downstairs. I saw the fire, went to get a bowl of water, and then stood there like a deer in the headlights. After waiting few idiotic seconds I threw the water at what I thought was the fire’s base, then went to get more.
I managed to get the fire a little smaller but by that point, the city fire department was already coming down the hallway and they snuffed it out.
I remember standing outside and watching these guys do what they do best. Their gear, with the spaceman-type thing on their backs, watching the guy at the trick with all the handles and gauges. The red lights. The whole operation made me a little giddy.
There’d been a candle, with potpourri in the wax that had lit up. Only that one wall had been damaged where the flames had crawled up it, but it had filled the house with so much smoke that I ended up needing breathing treatments to deal with everything I’d inhaled while sleeping. To this day, if I get really winded and cough I can still taste the soot. I believe it’s by the grace of God I’m here today.
A few weeks after that, I went in to apply at the county volunteer fire department. I felt excited, to be around heroes. And to this day, I am still so proud to be part of this, the brotherhood of firefighters. I volunteered for 14 years, and now I’m proud to say I’m in my second year of full-time firefighting with the same department. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I truly enjoy being able to help someone who may end up being in the same situation as my mother and me. It’s not the integrity of the helmet that protects you, it’s the attitude and experience beneath it.