Interview with Fire Captain Rick, a Living Hero

As part of my preparation, I was required to interview a living hero. I considered going with somebody who’d been noted for having done something heroic, however I changed my mind. I feel that a hero is somebody who regularly demonstrates heroism, and that brought me to the Waterloo fire department, and specifically to Fire Captain, Rick.

Jared: How did you get started in this business?

Rick: I live in a small town, and I joined the volunteer department there 29 years ago, and I was on there 6 months. I had a good job at the region of waterloo doing traffic signals, and I got in as a volunteer, and six months later I said this is what I want to do for a living. I wanted a change, and just the rewarding part of the job, and just everyday is different, it’s exciting.  Sometime’s there’s downtime, yeah, you pick up a book, you read, you learn something new every day. So, that’s kind of how I got into it. I’ve never looked back regretting any minute of it.

Jared: What sort of training have you gone through over the years to be able to do this job?

Rick: I’ve been up to Ontario Fire College, Gravenhurst… I can’t even tell you how many times. So many aspects of fire fighting; there’s hazardous materials, the medical aspect, high angle rescue, low angle rescue, confined space, the list goes on and on because when something goes on out there (gestures at the window), people have one number to call. They call 911, they need the fire department. The police’ job is very specific; EMS is pretty specific, meaning emergency medical services; they deal with sick people. We’re fire, we have to deal with a whole lot of different situations. Some of them; over in Wellesley We pulled a horse out of a manure tank, rescued people off silos, car accidents, you name it. It’s unlimited as to what people call you for. Cats in trees!

Jared: That really does happen?

Rick: Oh yeah. We don’t normally go unless, well the one time we did the cat had a leash on, a chain, and it was wrapped around a branch. We had no choice, so we went.

Jared: What does a typical day look like for you?

Rick: It’s pretty routine, there’s a set schedule as far as station maintenance, we set up the day’s training every morning, so its scheduled to keep the guys busy, but you never know when the alarm’s going to go, and all of that planning’s for not. We got two calls today, so we scheduled station tours for kids that come in; we show them the equipment, we get dressed in full scba gear, breathing apparatus, just so they’re not scared of… so they can see who’s under all of that equipment. It’s just us.

Jared: If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you would be doing?

Rick: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. It’s been so long, and I don’t think I could go back to working five days a week. We work four days on, this week it is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then we’re off for four, and then we come in next week on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night, we’re off for four. So we know, beginning of the year, exactly when we’re working throughout the year, whether you’re working your birthday, whether you’re working your anniversary, whether you’re working Christmas. We sit down, we pick holidays at the end of the year for the following year, so you can schedule those dates. But what would I be doing? Again, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because, because when I go home I put the pager on, so its 24/7, 365 days a year unless I’m on vacation that I’m a fire fighter.

Jared: So then, if there’s a call, under what circumstances would you get called in on your pager?

Rick: Same thing. When I’m living in the town of Wellesley, medical calls, fire calls, same thing as we do here in the city. Not to the frequency that we do in the city here. Last year we ran 4411 calls here in Waterloo, and in Wellesley we ran about 70. Population out there: 2500. Population here a little over 100 000, but if you add the student population, its almost 50 000 more, so you’re looking at around 160 000.

Jared: So I imagine you’ve responded to an awful lot of events, but what do you typically respond to?

Rick: I would say 60% of our calls are medical calls. There’s a criteria for fire, police and ambulance, and they are difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, chest pain, vital signs absent, unconsciousness… EMS class their calls in code 3 and code 4, so anything code 4, which is an urgent call for them, a lights and siren call for them, or life threatening, those are the ones we get called to. So probably 60% is tiered response, medical, then there are car accidents, alarm ringing, set off due to cooking. Nowadays there’s a very small percentage of actual fires, because of the fire code regulations, better fire prevention, stuff like that. The fire marshal’s office have mandated more of an education. We go into schools, we teach them about fire safety. So they’re taught at a very early age to be careful with candles, be careful with cooking, and so on and so forth. Its changed since the 70’s and earlier. Fire retardant materials help as well, but it is mainly education.

Jared: So how often, now, would you actually get called to put out a fire?

Rick: I’m not sure, exactly, what the stats were for last year. We had a pretty good house fire in November of this past year, they just had one at the university. I would say monthly there would be a significant fire. They had a good one at Dale crescent on Christmas eve at the apartment building. So I would say once or twice a month you get a fire causing damage, a hundred thousand dollars plus.

Jared: Over the years, is there any event that you’ve responded to which sticks out in your mind as being just something really terrible, or something that was terrifying to respond to?

Rick: Yeah, last year, we were working, we were on day shift and we had just responded to an alarm down on Erb street, set off due to cooking, and as we were coming back, we get a medical call to an apartment building. Dispatch didn’t give us details over the air; she wondered if we could phone her. So I phoned her; she says we’ve got a two year old male and an adult male both VSA –

Jared: VSA?

Rick: Vital signs absent, possible suicide. And so, we had just passed the property, we turned around, we got there. We were the first ones there. The wife was in the hallway, very upset; we go in and the male had drowned his son, and then killed himself. That probably sticks out as the most upsetting one to me. There have been several others, but we’ve got a good critical incident stress team here and a process to help guys get through that, and move on to the next one. There’s nothing you can do, but it is sad. Well, it’s another human being and especially with a child involved. They’re human beings. We look after people, and we carry on.

Jared: Were there any that were very dangerous to you or to someone else on the team?

Rick: Sure. The last fire we went into, a room was fully engulfed in fire, and you just rely on your training and your equipment, each other, we have accountability systems set up, and its a command system which keeps track of people and eliminates that freelancing. Everybody is accounted for, works together. The commander, Platoon Chief, knows where they all are.

My interview with Fire Captain Rick continued; on the other hand my recording device did not. There were two things that stuck out in my mind, however. The first was that when taking account of a situation, Rick said that they will “Risk a life to save a life.” To me, that is the embodiment of a hero; somebody that will sacrifice their own well being, for the sole purpose of improving another’s even to the point that it may cost them their life. I also asked Rick whether he felt that he, himself and other fire fighters should be considered heroes. He responded that “hero” is a very big word, and that they were just people doing their job. I humbly disagree with Rick on that point. From what he told me, I would say that he and those that he works with are heroes. After the interview, I made a point to thank him for his time, as well as to thank him for doing the job he does. We’re safer as a result of his efforts, and I know that were it any of our lives on the line, he would do all that he could to help. He is completely dedicated to his work, and for that, we should all be thankful.