Heroes Among Us: An Interview with a Firefighter

The following is the first of my interviews with heroes I know, with the hope of revealing the ordinary aspects of a hero’s life and to help the rest of us recognize hero traits or tendencies in ourselves. The name of the interviewee has been changed for privacy sake.

Among the many things firefighters are known for, two things stand out the most – their courage and their cooking.

When I first met Dave the firefighter at a family gathering several years ago, I was immediately impressed by his quiet confidence, and then with his show of kindness and affection while he played with his children.

Becoming a firefighter was a natural career choice for him after finishing Emergency Medical Training (EMT) school and working an ambulance for seven years. Sixteen years after making that decision — and having worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a cadet — he’s now a captain with the fire department.

When I asked him how many fires or emergency calls he’s answered so far, he told me he didn’t know. And then he did the math and was amazed by the answer: well over 20,000 emergency calls over the course of his 23-year career. With all of that experience, Dave understands fear and courage. He attributes the ability to face the dangers in his job to training, saying, “All of the initial firefighters that engage in their first fire are VERY courageous…It takes a different type of being to become trained to the point of entering a building knowingly, realizing that death could take you. After the first fire, your comfort level increases.” Continuing to risk their lives becomes like clockwork after that, he says.

Though he agrees with the Moorish proverb that he who fears something gives it power over him, he also believes that sometimes fear is a good thing. It’s “what a veteran must realize when leading a crew, it’s that sixth sense to objectively analyze the situation and make a decision.”

One aspect of his job is keeping people calm in an emergency, and he has practical advice for dealing with others who are fearful: “Be a solid listener. Make a conscious effort not to…be distracted; make eye contact and ensure that the person you are listening to knows that they have your full attention.”

Dave defines courage as acting or performing for the best interests of others, rather than yourself. Like any good husband and father, his own fears or concerns center around his family. Getting injured while responding to an emergency or being caught up in a domestic violence incident on call could lead to not being able to provide for his family. He’s also concerned he might fail to instill strong ethics and morals in his children or to teach them to always do the right thing regardless of hurting someone else’s feelings. And he believes building confidence in children, that they can do anything, is the first building block of courage.

And what about the rumor that firefighters are good cooks? Chores, like cooking and cleaning, are typically shared in a firehouse. And just like the food at a truck stop better be good enough to please the truckers, food served at a fire station has to satisfy a hungry group of firefighters. Dave always enjoyed cooking green chile sausage gravy to complement biscuits and eggs when it was his turn to feed the “troops.” He was kind enough to share his recipe with us.

Green Chile Sausage Gravy (for 10 good eaters)

  1. Gather up a large pan that holds approximately 3/4 gal.
  2. Place one large “log” of spicy sausage in the pan, cook it down and keep some of the grease for flavor, strain the rest.
  3. Once the sausage is cooked, add in approximately 1/2 gal of milk, bring it to a boil.
  4. In a large cup, place approximately 4 cups of milk, slowly add flour until the contents are very thick, whisk it if possible, lumps of flour are yucky!
  5. When the milk and sausage contents are boiling, slowly pour in the milk/flour contents, until the boiling stops, then stop the pour and whisk the pot to further avoid clumps. Once the contents boil again, do the same. Key here is to do this a few times until the consistency matches your taste.
  6. Once you have the desired thickness, add in approximately three to four cups of thawed frozen HOT green chile. Let this simmer and stir for a few minutes and you’re good! Hint: If your chile isn’t hot enough, you can add black pepper to spice it up.