Firefighter: A Day in the Life

The 911 dispatcher sends you to a reported fire in a college dorm.

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This is far more than any firefighter would experience in a single day, but it will give an idea of this career's range of activities.

You've just been off for four days, so now it's time for your three days of living, dorm style, in the firehouse. It's your turn to cook. Even though firefighters love to eat hearty, they're also starting to try to eat healthy. So, you pull out your copy of Fire Hall Cooking and pick out "Greens with Beef Teriyaki" as the lunch main course. You pick up what you need at the supermarket, and then you're the chef: It's like cooking for a hungry family of 12.

Then the alarm rings. The 911 dispatcher sends you to a reported fire in a college dorm. So, it's into your heavy protective gear, which you hate because in a burning building it could be well over 100 degrees and the protective gear is very hot. Wouldn't you know it, a false alarm—a prank by a drunken student. (In fact, 1 in 10 fire calls are false alarms, and from 1995 through 2004, 34 firefighters died in responding to those calls.) After you return and finish a convivial lunch, three of you repair to your study group—you're taking a required continuing education class. This one is on responding to a nuclear or biochemical attack. Next, you make a routine inspection of a manufacturing plant to ensure that the building is up to code.

A few hours later, the alarm sounds again, but this time it's for real. Not a fire, but an apparent heart attack. All the firefighters are EMTs, but you're a full-fledged paramedic. Your captain assigns you the lead on this call. You do all you can, but the victim dies in your arms. That had happened to some of your buddies, but this is a first for you.

You lie in bed, unable to fall asleep. Finally, you do—and the alarm rings. One of the city's boarded-up buildings is an inferno. You enter it to see if any squatters are there. Amid flames and smoke, you see a woman, physically fine but paralyzed by fear, and you hustle her out and then help your comrades put out the fire. You search for signs of arson.