Extinguishing Central City fire?

cc-fireDear Readers,

The potential of extinguishing Central City’s Fire Department has raised some flags across the community.

I write to you not with a boo who story of how I was going down a bad path with alcohol or how I have some tragic home life story and the department saved me from the inevitable future; however I’m sure that is someone’s story. I write to you with a different kind of story, one of self-discovery and identity that brought me to stand for a bigger cause. I recognize that my story isn’t here to change already made decisions but maybe it’ll get you thinking.

I joined Central City Fire just shy of a year ago with the understanding that I would be eligible for the STRIVE grant, an education based grant that would pay for my EMT certification. With emergency medicine my end goal, this was perfect. I would give two years on the department, have my certification paid for, maybe catch a couple of laughs along the way, and that would be that. I went through the 10 weeks of rookie class, learning in new ways than I had before because it was outside of a lab and classroom setting. This tested my critical thinking and logical problem solving skills that I thought I had sharpened in my years perusing my undergrad. I didn’t focus too much on the fact that I was being challenged to think a different way, I only had one goal in mind: EMT class. Once passing the entrance exam on the fire department, I received a pager so that I could respond to calls. Still not identifying myself as a firefighter. Department standards say that you must serve a six month probationary period in which you are issued “training gear” (which was just a nice way of saying old, used gear) and a list of limitations that you must follow until you have graduated past this with a certain performance level at which you would receive brand new gear. This gear was specially measured to fit your leg length, waist size, arms, shoulders, everything. It smelled of fresh fabric, it was stiff, heavy and rich in color and unworn black fabric with a neon reflective border. The bottom of the jacket was the best part, the first initial of your first name and your last name, spelled out in neon reflective lettering. But I was still more interested in being a medic.

Over the course of the six month probationary period, I decided I would embrace the trainings; learn as much as I could from them. I mean, I had to be there so what else was I going to do?  Never having studied fire behavior before, I spent a lot of time with our training captain. Learning how to properly protect regulators when assembling an air pack on the trucks so that the equipment will last longer, practicing how to use only four of your senses to search for trapped victims inside a smoke and flame filled building because your ability to see had been taken away by the situational factors. I worked with other firefighters on how to set up command when first on scene, how to safely perform a low angle rescue as if a car had gone off the shoulder of the parkway. This was all valuable information for me. I needed it to get off probation. Time went on and I developed relationships with the other firefighters, realizing that they were there not because they had to be, but because they wanted to be. They don’t get paid to do what they do; they do it because they want to help people. The officers didn’t have to take time to set up a cone course to help me test on the trucks. They didn’t have to explain in three different ways until I finally understood what flashpoint and backdraft are. I was on their team which meant they were going to do everything that they could to best equip me for every possible situation I would come across. Every hour that was put into training me was unpaid. Arguably, it costs them money to volunteer on the fire department, but the reality is, every single one of them would do it every single second that was humanly imaginable, if they could.

My probation passed, I was released, and an abundance of doors opened up. Throughout the entire process I had been selfishly motivated by my end goal. How all this work was going to help me move up the ladder, closer to reaching my dreams. About a month after I was discharged from probation I ran a medical call at about noon on a weekday. I was first on scene with the medics and stood the rest of the responding firefighters down, given the nature of the call the medics could handle with what we had. I was wearing a Central City Fire Department T-shirt and my bunker pants. The non-faded, clean, new pants that I had earned after passing probation. I walked into the room where the elderly woman was lying in bed barely breathing. Walking through the room, I went to the younger woman that was standing by the window, assuming she was the one that had called for help on the elderly woman. As the medics continued with care of that patient, I gathered information from the younger woman. The medics loaded the elderly woman on the stretcher and took her to the ambulance outside the building. So far, everything was going as expected, I was following my training; this was a run of mill call for me. After the woman was loaded in the ambulance, the younger woman grabbed my hand, looking at me in disbelief; this was when I learned that she had just watched her mother leave in an ambulance. She opened up to me, confiding her fears of losing her mother, her admiration for her mother’s strength and the uncandid emotion that she needed to purge before going to the hospital, so that she could be her mother’s strength in her time of need.

It didn’t matter that I was me. What mattered was that I was wearing a Maltese cross and a shirt that said Central City Fire Rescue. I was how she found courage in that moment to face what might happen at the hospital. As the scene cleared, I knew at that moment, I was a firefighter. Not because I was holding an axe or a hose, but because I was serving someone in their time of need. Sure her house wasn’t on fire, I wasn’t pulling her out a mangled car but I was doing something just as powerful. I have been on the scene of a motor vehicle accident and a fire that was threatening structures, and the victims of those incidents found strength in some of our other firefighters that were there,  talking  them through the next steps. How to take the memories away from a dwelling that held them for 20 years, that was now ash. That’s the gem in an unpolished rock, that’s the glory of a firefighter’s duty. Those moments where you are someone’s power, durability and tenacity because they just need one breath of vulnerability in times of high anxiety. I fully acknowledge that you can empathize for me, only for the duration of the article. Experiencing is feeling and believing and my words can only take that experience so far; I may have you yahooing or boo-whoing in this moment, I get that, but my hope is that it gets you thinking. On a good day, maybe it’ll even inspire you to ride along with your local fire response team, whomever it may be, Timberline, Blackhawk or Central City, we all have the same goals at the end of the day.

You see, my mentor once told me “you must stand for something, right or wrong, I am not the one to judge your character, but you must stand for something or you’ll fall for everything.” I stand for this fire department. Just like my brothers and sisters that leave their warm beds at two in the morning to serve the community. I was once told that “information brings transformation”.  We all do our jobs to best of our ability and make decisions for what we think is right in that moment for the greater good of all involved. I understand that is what you are trying to accomplish by expanding Timberline’s district into the unincorporated land that Central City Fire has served for years. This seems like a good and easy solution to the problem at hand, we all know that. However, I disagree that this is the best decision. Central City Fire Department encompasses priceless assets within its walls. Sure it’s old, but the value that it holds is priceless. We have a training captain that has worked in State Parks Forest Service and brings his 40+ years of knowledge and experience on wildfires and fire behavior to our classes for free. A wealth of knowledge is at all of our fingertips, we just have to ask him. He knows the buildings of Central like the back of his hand which carries invaluable information when we are in time sensitive situations. We have a chief that is not only eloquent in grant writing but resourceful in emergency scene management that he got from over 20 years of volunteer service and 22+ years of a paid position. And the best part about him? He participates in every training, furthers his knowledge for the benefit of those that serve with him, and is humble and charismatic every day of the week.  If there is anyone that I want watching my back when I enter a building engulfed in flames, it’s those two men. I edify both of these people because they put themselves aside so that they can make a larger impact; they leave a crater not just a footprint.

I said earlier that I disagree that having Timberline take over Central City Fire was the best choice. I say this because fighting to keep Central City Fire is the best choice from my eyes. I know that it is not the easiest by far, it will take work. A lot of work. That’s where I ask for your help. I ask that we sit down and solution seek through this together. This way we aren’t forced to fight a battle we haven’t mapped out yet. We don’t want to be a race horse out of the gate if we haven’t been in the gym yet. It just doesn’t make sense. But with the right support, we can keep Central City Fire. I don’t want to go into the boring facts of how volunteer departments save tax payers somewhere around $37 billion dollars a year and with the abolishment of Central City Fire, Timberline will have no choice but to supply paid firefighters in this area of the county from taxpayer money. The volunteers of Central City Fire have day jobs, we support our households with or without the existence of the department. But why contract out when there is a gem sitting right in front of you? I invite you to have conversations with us, facilitate an exchange of information so that we are all educated on the situation at hand, so that we can proceed together as a community.


Shelby Nation
Central City Firefighter