A Life Where No Emergencies are Routine

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Ask firefighters what their day was like and you will never hear the same answer.

"There's no such thing as a typical day," said Lieutenant Marlon Brandle of the Oakland Fire Department.

From funny smells to five-alarm fires, firefighters handle any situation, even if there's only the slightest potential of danger.

"We are the handymen of the world. When something goes wrong, they call the firefighters," added firefighter Jeff Hillstrom.

"People want to work for Oakland because we're a working fire department. We fight fires all the time," said paramedic firefighter Cedric Price, referring to the large numbers of fires and emergency situations that arise in Oakland.

Firefighters do much more than just fight fires. In fact, 70% of their calls are medical, according to Brandle. All Oakland firefighters serve double duty as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics. They go to the same emergency situations as ambulances.

Firefighters have been in the national spotlight since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Many Oakland firefighters went to New York to attend funeral services and show support for the firemen who were killed.

Daily Cal Staff/Rob Katzer
Keith Evans, in full emergency response dress, takes part in the strenuous training drills that are characteristic of the Fire Academy.

"There's a real camaraderie between firefighters. We're like a family," said Brandle, who was one of those who went to New York.

Oakland also sent its Urban Search and Rescue unit to assist at the World Trade Center. Hillstrom was part of that team.

"The devastation was unimaginable. But you have to separate yourself from that and do your job," he said.

The firefighters said they have felt an outpouring of support from the public.

"I think now people realize that we put our life on the line to protect them," said Brandle. He added that the attacks have had an effect on firefighters too.

"It brought us back to base because sometimes we forget how dangerous this job is," he said.

For those wondering about a career in firefighting, Price had some advice.

"You need a desire to help people because that's what we do," said Price.

That desire must also translate into a strong commitment. Oakland firefighters work for 24 hours straight, which they follow with 48 off. This schedule creates a close-knit environment, according to Hillstrom.

Firefighting is becoming an increasingly difficult field to break into. According to Oakland Fire Academy Director Ian McWhorter, less than 10% of those who apply get jobs. Often the figure is much lower.

"When I applied, there were 5,000 people applying for 100 spots," said McWhorter.

Applicants must pass both a written and rigorous physical test. A doctor and a psychiatrist also examine them. If they pass the grueling process, they are allowed into the academy.

The academy is tough, and not everyone makes it, according to McWhorter. Recruits are constantly pushed to the limit physically. They train in full gear using heavy fire hoses and carrying practice dummies.

If they complete the 12 week process, recruits become probationary firefighters. After a year, they are admitted to the department.

It may not be a career for everyone, but when asked Brandle, Price and Hillstrom all said the same thing.

"I love this job."


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