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Fueling a Firefighter

Inside the Fire Station

By Megan Bryant

Photos by Kimberlee Miller

On a warm, sunny Sunday evening, I got to catch up with the “C” shift as they prepped for dinner. On the menu? Steak and veggie kabobs for the grill, rice, and a big bowl of chips with, wait for it, TWO types of salsa. Locally made salsa, might I add. Step aside, Martha Stewart!

It’s a team effort as they make quick work of the chopping, skewering, and grilling; and the stacked presentation legitimately looked good enough to appear on Food Network.

The public has been known to question what firefighters spend all their time doing, and, commonly, that image sometimes defaults to the stereotypical “chili feeds” in the fire house.

Well, sure that’s true sometimes. I mean, WHO DOESN’T LOVE CHILI? The reality is, they choose meals that are healthy, relatively easy to assemble, filling, and most importantly, things that will still taste good if they must reheat their plates a few hours later when they inevitably get a call the very moment they sit down to eat.

As we gathered in the kitchen, there was plenty of playfulness and laughter when asked about their eating habits. But, in all seriousness, the department and the crew all believe that healthy eating habits, coupled with working out and proper rest are non-negotiable. They want to be at their best when the call comes in for them to roll out to serve the community.

So, what else do firefighters do all day? You might be surprised at the long list of tasks and training requirements they are constantly staying on top of to be up to strict safety and compliance standards. A firefighter, aka, first responder, doesn’t have a standard 9-5 punch-clock type of schedule. They are on shift for 48 hours straight, then off for four days, then back on.

I was treated to a full tour at Eagle Fire Station No. 1 by Battalion Chief Nevil Humphreys. Humphreys is the Battalion Chief for two of the three shifts on staff at Eagle Fire.

If you take a lap around the facility, you’ll see that the fire station is fully equipped with bedrooms, kitchen, recreation areas, laundry room, and a series of offices and training rooms. Plus, there’s a gym where at least an hour a day of physical exercise is expected for on-duty staff.

Cleaning the station, the rigs, routine safety inspections of local businesses and buildings in their boundaries, and a rigorous training schedule round out some of the daily “tasks” for each crew member. Annual training schedules can include anywhere from 240-290 hours for the “fire” side of training, which doesn’t encompass the ongoing medical training component.

Some training requirements come through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), while others are dialed down at a state or local agency level. The scope of training includes policy and procedural elements in a more traditional classroom-type setting, while others are very hands on. Live fire trainings, vehicle extrications, swift-water rescue, and emergency vehicle operation (think – driver’s ed with a fire engine) to name a slew.

Each fall the department conducts fire safety education at local schools. Eagle firefighters will cycle through seven local elementary schools teaching simple, yet vital skills to approximately 3,500-4,000 kids, ages Kindergarten through grade five.

“The day fills up fast, it’s always go, go, go,” says Deputy Chief Jamie Vincent of Eagle Fire. A California transplant, Vincent came up from California in 1999 and started here in Eagle as a volunteer for the department. Back then it was 100% volunteer. Over the years it has evolved into a full career station as the community has grown.

When a call comes in there are a lot of moving parts to handle an incident. All 911 calls go into Ada County Dispatch and from there, they look at the mapping of which departments will get called in, and what types of support and resources are needed.

The Eagle fire department is running an average of 2,500 calls annually, 10% of which are fire related, comparable to the 10% average across the nation. 80% of what they do is medical related. The rest is a mixed bag of anything you could possibly think of that we community members might need help with.

“We get called for everything, from smoke detectors batteries going out, to saving the ducklings in the sewer, to saving a beaver that’s stuck in a fence, to cats in trees, to…you name it, we are the catch all for everything,” explains Vincent.

With such a variety of incidents, and a constant effort to be prepared for anything at any time, the department is keenly aware of the high risk for stress that’s attached to a volatile career.

Firefighters are often responding to someone’s worst day and running onto the scene where others are fleeing to safety. Annual physicals and stress tests are key to helping the crew monitor and maintain their physical and mental health.

As you can imagine, this type of career environment truly benefits from some time spent around the table together, bonding in the “brotherhood” (where sisters are most certainly welcome) and fueling their bodies with good food. In turn, the community benefits from having sharp, loyal, capable first responders just a phone call away.