Category Archives: Fire/EMS Ventures

Fire Science Degrees

After talking to my parents and some firefighters, I’ve come across the finding that fire science degrees are kinda  a waste of time.

In the words of a firefighter/paramedic, “you can teach a monkey to fight fires.” Obtaining a fire science degree can take two years out of your time, and at the point, you will be behind your peers competing for the same position.

To make yourself a more valuable candidate, it’s best to obtain an EMT certification, which should take about three months/ten weeks, depending on the program. If you’re interested in it, go for a paramedic program. Fire Departments that provide ALS services to their districts need paramedics. They can train firefighters, but they can’t train paramedics. There’s a higher demand for one than for the other.


Burn Tower Room* Description

Dark smoke and the heat of fire press against the concrete walls, crowding into every corner. Crawling into the burn tower under thick, low-hanging smoke and oppressive heat, the trainee finds herself unable to recall the pleasant daytime weather outside. She follows one of two fire hoses laying on the gritty cement floor, around a partition on the left, and towards a firefighter several feet ahead. He holds the nozzle of the fire hose and aims it at the far left corner of the room, fifteen feet in front of him, where a fire sends flames bursting toward the ceiling. Smoke and heat wafts through a small window cut into the concrete wall on the left, just a few feet above the kneeling firefighter and trainee. Despite this opening, the thick smoke causes the room to maintain a hot, gray darkness. The walls and floor of the room, giving the illusion of a cool basement, are steaming in places and firelight flickers against them.  In alignment in the center of the room are two large, square concrete pillars, where a congregation of trainees crouch low under the shadow of smoke and look to the right. A fire pulses with inescapable heat in the far right corner, matching its twin to the left, and another firefighter aims her nozzle of the second fire hose aimed at this fire. Together these fires create smoke in such great quantities it crowds itself down from the ceiling, hot and thick, and leaks out of the window, entry door behind the partition, and through a wide, dark doorway set into the right wall.  The trainees and their instructors are constantly restrained by the unrelenting heat and suffocating thickness of smoke.

*The burn tower is a building used for firefighter training.


Author’s Note: This is a description of a burn tower room I was in during a fire behavior lecture at a summer camp that allowed me to get hands-on training in a lot of firefighting things.

Fire Alarm!

My friends and I were hanging out in the college library today, which is on the second floor, and the fire alarm went off. We knew it wasn’t a drill because we’d just had a drill about a week ago.

One of my friends is disabled, she has to use a walker to help her get around. And with the fire alarm going off, we had to take the stairs rather than the elevator (like we usually do). So I started helping her down the stairs, and we were going to leave her walker until we could come back for it.

Then these strangers who were behind us grabbed my friend’s bookbag for her, and her walker. We didn’t even ask them, they just did it. It was awesome.

So we walked outside and our ears stopped bleeding (those alarms are LOUD). An ambulance showed up, the fire chief, and a fire engine. It was awesome watching them respond, and I could enjoy it because no one was hurt. The alarm was set off by an explosion in the chemistry lab!

I thought back to how I and others acted during the alarm. We knew, more or less for sure, it wasn’t a drill. And these total strangers took a moment to help my friend out with her things. People make me angry, but I still have to love ’em.

Firefighter and EMS books

Here is a reading list for those who want to read stories from firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics. I personally have read all of these books and enjoyed them.

Fire Service:


On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories, by Linda F. Willing

Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center, by FDNY Battalion Commander Richard Picciotto



Rescue 471: A Paramedic’s Stories, by Peter Canning

Paramedic, by Peter Canning

Dial 911 by Joan E. Lloyd

EMT: Beyond the Lights and Sirens, by Pat Ivey


What I Want To Be When I Grow Up (A Wanna-Be Medic)

CaduceusBeing a paramedic isn’t about flashing lights and blaring sirens. It isn’t about big shiny trucks, wearing a badge and a uniform, or working with firefighters. It’s not about driving seventy miles an hour. These are all things that many an aspiring paramedic dream of–and I’m not exempt–but I am sure that they all lose their novelty eventually.

These are not the reasons I want to be a paramedic. Saving lives is one, but it’s not the only one. If it was, I don’t think I would last long in ambulance work. I wouldn’t even be interested in it for long, because savings lives isn’t everything being a paramedic is about. It is a part of it, and a large part at that, but it is not the only part. It’s just as much about easing suffering as it is saving lives.

Paramedics intervene at the most important time for injured people–as soon as possible. They are on call 24/7, so that when someone needs help, they can give it. Whether this means performing CPR or holding a hand, I won’t know until I arrive on scene. I never know what situation I might be thrown into, or how I will be helping somebody.

That said, I might miss dinner because someone’s grandma stubbed her toe, or I might be woken up at three in the morning because a kid fell out of bed from a nightmare. There are going to be calls that are a complete waste of time, where people are just abusing the system. And I’m sure I will hate it.

But I might miss dinner because someone’s grandma went into sudden cardiac arrest, or I might wake up at three in the morning because someone’s kid fell and hit his head–and now he’s not waking up. These aren’t wastes of time. These aren’t people abusing the system. These are real emergencies, where paramedics make a real difference–and often, the only difference.

There are a lot of parts to a paramedic’s job that make it what it is. There’s the emergency medical part of it–which takes up the majority of the job. But there is also rescue work (like extracting victims from vehicles at a car wreck) and public safety (educating and taking preventative measures to ensure public safety in the event of a mass casualty incident or disaster). Both of these aspects appeal to me. What other career can you work in the field and also help prevent future calamities? Not many.

Paramedic may not be viewed as a profession like being a nurse or a police officer is. It may even seem like a job one does during college. For some people, it is. It’s merely step towards a higher goal. But to others, it is so much more.

To me, it is a new frontier. A chance to grow with the field. A place where I can make a direct difference within my community (whether I live here or in another state). A mixture of everything I want in a career.

The flashing lights and sirens aren’t even the wrapping on the package–they’re the tag. Inside, there’s a chance to take the most painful human existence and make it less so. Make it more bearable. Give help and hope when no one else can. Showing up when no one else will come. (Yes, Grandma, even if I miss dinner.)

Still lingering is the public image of paramedics as ‘the people who drive the ambulance’. But this is not so. The days of the big dumb ambulance drivers are gone. In their place are intelligent medical professionals. They drive the ambulance, yes, but they are also running a mini-Emergency Room in the back of their ambulance with every call.

The importance of paramedics is, I believe, becoming more apparent in the public eye. They save lives with tools, skills, and knowledge that otherwise are not readily available to the public. Let’s all face it–doctors don’t make house calls any more. That’s a paramedic’s job. It’s a difference I want to make, it’s a difference I can make, and–most importantly–it’s a difference I will make every day I go to work.

There is a saying in medicine, “We may cure seldom, but we can relieve often, and we should comfort always.” Whether I make a difference by curing someone’s illness or injuries, relieving their pain, or comforting them on their way out, it doesn’t matter. Because of me, someone’s worst day will be a little bit better.

Paramedic is not just a dream. It is a goal. It is an aspiration. And it’s what I want to be when I grow up.