They risk their lives on a daily basis, just to save ours. They fight effortlessly and fearlessly, knowing the potential risks. They are called to do everything, from rescuing a cat from a tree, to crawling into a burning building to rescue people. They’re just regular people, with a risky, 24 hour job; they’re firefighters.
Joel Rampe, Scott McWilliams, and Eric Wilkins are all firefighter EMT’s working at Findlay Fire Department station three. Rampe has been a firefighter for 11 years, McWilliams 12, and Wilkins 14. “It’s (his job) different everyday,” McWilliams explains. “It’s never the same thing twice. So everyday, you have work that’s never going to be like it was last time.” While that’s his favorite thing about his job, it’s also his least favorite. “The stress level that you have when you work here is high,” continues McWilliams. “Like when you’re sitting at home eating dinner, you eat a lot slower than what we do. You’ll see us eat a lot faster because we don’t know if the alarm’s going to go off. You don’t sleep very well, everything in your life is just faster, so it’s a higher level of stress.”
In addition to the high stress level that comes with their job, the hardest thing about their job, according to Rampe, is staying mentally and physically in shape. “Mentally, if you have to deal with a young infant or a young kid’s struggle in a medical situation, the stress of that,” says Rampe. Because Rampe, McWilliams, and Wilkins have children, nieces, and nephews, it hits home for them when they have to help a child in an emergency. Adding to that, Wilkins mentions that “watching someone our age or younger pass,” is tough on everyone who works in the fire department.
When it comes time to act fast and do their job, what is currently going through their mind depends on the situation. “Everyone’s different,” says Wilkins. “In a fire, you adapt your thought process to the conditions that are presented to you.” In a fire that struck a building in Findlay around three years ago, panic wasn’t what was going through McWilliams’ and a Wilkins' mind. “That was the first time that I didn’t think I was going to go home that day...there was no panic, but it’s our job,” says McWilliams. “And if you think of it that way, you go into a building like that, and after you’ve seen everything that we’ve seen once you get inside, you do what you can, and if you don’t go home, that’s okay.”
Together, the three of them and their co-workers work as a team. “You never work alone,” explains Rampe. “We don’t go in without each other and we don’t come out without each other,” adds McWilliams.
What terrifies them is if an attack similar to 9/11 happened in Findlay. “To think if we had something like that here, you know, a building like Marathon was to catch on fire,” explains McWilliams and Wilkins “we wouldn’t know what to do.”
The three of them view themselves as social workers from time to time. When an incident occurs, they consistently have to calm down and talk through situations with the victims involved. Speaking calmly, telling them what they need to hear, and occasionally taking them out of the environment is what they do to reassure and help the victim.
“We’re not all big, hunky, good looking men, that’s for sure,” clarifies Rampe on stereotypes against firefighters. “I think some people think we’re overweight, overpaid, lazy people who cause economic issues,” includes Wilkins. “I don’t think anyone here joined for the paycheck. We’re all in good shape.”
For those interested in becoming a firefighter, getting involved in EMS, EMT, paying attention to the paramedic side of the job, and looking for volunteer opportunities such as EMS or fire are good ways to understand the job and figure out if a firefighter is a possible career option. A college degree isn’t going to guarantee a position as a firefighter; proper training and dedication beforehand will.
“It’s just a different type of job. Everybody’s got their own thing they’re good at,” states McWilliams. “The one thing about the job is it’s a job that I absolutely love. The always questions is, ‘if you could do anything for a living, what would you do?’ I’m doing it, and it’s nice to be able to say.”