‘There is no better feeling than being able to help’

Jeremy Hebebrand

Kent firefighters say no two days are the same

Hannah Potes | Daily Kent Stater Kent firefighters Pat Paisley, Steve Smith and Jason Peters stand in front of Truck 14 at the Kent Fire Station. Paisley, Smith and Peters are three of the 30 firefighters who work at the Kent station.

Credit: DKS Editors

Firefighting is not as glamorous as it is portrayed on TV or in the media. Kicking down doors, spraying water everywhere, playing cards all day and sleeping all night is hardly the real routine of a firefighter.

Being a firefighter in a college town like Kent makes the job a little less routine and more spontaneous.

Kent has 30 firefighters, all male, who work an alternating three-shift schedule. Ten people work per shift and are split up between both fire stations in Kent.

For Kent firefighters the day starts at 8 a.m., when they spend about four hours checking equipment and making sure everything is in working condition for the day. In the afternoon, they spend their time on training exercises and cleaning up around the station, both inside and out. After 5 p.m., they have free time they can spend however they like.

“Our schedule is simple, but it is easy to get behind in our work if we have two or three calls during the day,” firefighter Steve Smith said.

Smith has been a firefighter for Kent for 22 years and has been on thousands of calls.

On average, the stations get about 15 calls a day, sometimes getting as many as 22. Smith expects the station to get more than 4,000 calls this year.

A lot of the calls they receive are from campus, and many involve alcohol-related incidents. Thursday is the busiest day for the station, Smith said.

Firefighters on the east coast generally work 24-hour shifts and get 48 hours off. On the west coast, fire stations use different variations of a swing shift system in which firefighters work 24 hours and get 24 off.

These shift systems allow a lot of work to be done with a minimum amount of employees, making it more economical and beneficial, Smith said.

When a call comes in, firefighters must drop what they are doing and immediately respond to it. Depending on the type of call, it can take up to an hour and a half to attend to the situation.

“In Kent we are busy all day on calls, but the floodgates really open at night,” firefighter Pat Paisley said.

From 11 p.m. to the end of their shift at 8 a.m., they are taking calls and getting little to no sleep.

Many of the firefighters go home and just sleep or rest the first day after work. Working a 24-hour shift really takes a toll on the body, Smith said.

“Sleep deprivation is one of the hardest things about this job; we go through a lot of coffee,” Paisley said, laughing.

A handful of the firefighters at the station have second jobs that they work on their time off, and some even volunteer at other stations in surrounding cities. On their days off, the firefighters are still on call, but it is not mandatory for them to show up if needed, though most do.

“Someone always comes in; generally four to five show up to back up the station if the guys on duty are all out on calls,” Smith said.

There is a certain pride in being a firefighter and a certain public perception that comes with the job.

“People trust us. We see people at their worst and we help them get through it,” firefighter Jason Peters said.

No two days are ever the same for a firefighter. The unexpected timing of calls and the situations that happen during the day are always different and keep the job fresh and exciting, Peters said.

The busiest times for the firefighters in Kent are Halloween, finals week and the first month of school, especially calls from freshmen.

“We get a lot of calls the first month of school,” Smith said. “A lot of people get homesick and nervous about being on their own for the first time.”

The firefighters always have some rules to follow while they are on and off duty. While on duty they must stay within the city limits if they are traveling.

“If we need groceries we go to Acme because it is in city limits. If a call comes in while we are shopping, down go the groceries and we are off to the call,” Smith said.

A paramedic license and other certifications, such as hazardous materials prevention training, are required to be a firefighter in Kent. Every three years firefighters have to get recertified for all of their training, sometimes on their own time during off-days.

“There is definitely some job security in being a firefighter,” Peters said.

Firefighters in Kent used to be limited to living within 10 minutes of the fire station, but the restriction was voted down recently, and they are now allowed to live in the adjacent counties.

To retire, firefighters must serve at least 25 years and be 48 years of age.

“People generally work into their later years, but there is a point where they have to let you go due to old age,” Smith said.

Firefighting is a time-consuming job. It can be relentless and rewarding at the same time.

“You have to really love what you are doing, and it makes the job painless,” Paisley said. “There is no better feeling than being able to help someone when they need you the most.”

Contact public affairs reporter Jeremy Hebebrand at [email protected].