Is becoming a firefighter right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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How to become a Firefighter
Firefighters constantly find themselves rushing into completely unknown situations where they might be injured or killed. They don't know what's on fire, they don't know the layout of the building, they don't know who is in the building, they don't know whether the roof is about to collapse, they don't know if their equipment will fail or if they'll will run out of air at the wrong time. It's a huge list of unknowns, but they go in anyway because they are trained to save lives.
Another aspect of firefighting that many people are unaware of is the fact that it engages all five senses. Because there is so much adrenaline pulsing through a firefighter's veins, time slows down and they become even more acutely aware of their surroundings. Here are just a few examples:
In a typical house fire you can't see anything when you first enter the building; the smoke is simply too thick. The face mask and breathing apparatus just keeps the smoke out of your eyes and lungs, it doesn't really help you see. As you get closer to the fire you can start to see a faint orange glow through the smoke, and as you get closer its gets brighter. As soon as you put water on that fire, the water instantly converts to steam and the colour goes from grey to white. You still can't see very much, if anything at all.
Being in a fire is super hot, as you might expect. It is possible to get first degree burns on your skin because your sweat can turn to steam and can scald you. Your clear face mask can bubble and warp from the extreme heat. Your overall sense of touch is dramatically diminished because you are wearing gloves and heavy protective equipment.
Think of a campfire crackling and popping. Now imagine those sounds coming at you from above, below, in front of you and behind, and to the sides. Everything that's on fire is making noise; the floors, the walls, the ceiling, everything. Light bulbs are popping, walls are creaking, glass is breaking, mattress springs are letting loose, things are falling over. Another unmistakable sound is the water turning into steam as it's sprayed onto the hot ceiling, which is quickly followed by a stillness as the fire starts to go out. The ever-present sound of your breathing in the breathing apparatus sounds like a scuba diver, and means you're still alive and breathing. One sound you'll never want to hear in your breathing apparatus, however, is the warning bell on your air tank telling you that you have less than five minutes of air left.
You can often catch a whiff of the fire before you get to the site, and it can tell you a lot about what is burning (whether it is oil, wood, furniture etc). Once you put your mask on and enter the fire, however, you can't smell much of anything except the rubber smell of your mask, your own sweat, and a smokey smell that is still clinging onto your equipment from previous fires. When you finally take your mask off, you'll experience a whole new range of smells depending on what had been burning (wood, plastic, carpet, gas, paper, etc).
You can sometimes taste a fire if you inhale a lot of smoke or get some soot in your mouth. This might not happen during the fire but later when you are doing the clean up. This smokey taste in your mouth can stay with you for awhile.
These are the physical sensations of firefighting. However, the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from saving someone's life is as real, powerful, and memorable as any of the physical sensations.