What’s something most people don’t know about working in fire service?
There’s a preconceived notion that a lot of our job as full-time firefighters is solely responding to fire calls or emergencies—and that’s actually a really small percentage of the job. A lot of what we’re doing is in the background: fire prevention, community outreach and education, inspection, fire marshalling, permits, and making sure buildings are safe for people to occupy. Really any fire call we experience is viewed somewhat as a failure. We can prevent so many of these things from happening, whether it’s by engineering standards or people’s behavior. Unpreventable disasters still happen, but a lot of times the emergencies we respond to are preventable.
What does a typical week look like for you?
That’s what I love about the fire service. Every day or week is different. Fire chiefs end up wearing a lot of hats, especially here in Minnesota. Compared to other states, we have historically lower numbers of firefighters per capita, and so that puts a bigger burden on firefighters and chiefs to balance everything that’s being asked of us. So, my week varies from responding to large incidents when necessary to managing staff, which is kind of my number one priority—empowering everyone underneath me and making sure they have the tools and resources to do their job.
I really try to engage with the community as much as possible, too. Almost every fire chief is involved with related outside organizations. For instance, I’m a board member of the American Red Cross, and I’m involved with the OEC program. We’re trying to build connections and be part of the fabric of the community. We’re not just the service that you call on your worst day.
What is the most challenging thing about your line of work?
I’m young, so it hasn’t quite had its effect on me yet, but for most of my peers, it’s the emotional toll that the job can have. It’s finally starting to be safe for people to talk about and acknowledge it. It’s one thing to see a tragic death, but another to see it on a regular basis. That stands true for police officers or medical professionals, too. We take that very seriously, and most cities now are prioritizing mental health and taking steps to make sure all of our staff are resilient, and that when tragedy does strike there are processes and systems in place to support them.
How do you get through the hard days?
We also get the complete opposite end of the spectrum, too. We get to save lives on occasion, but even when we’re not doing that, we get to better people’s days. That, fortunately, happens more often than the tragedy happens, so that makes it all worthwhile.
Another motivator for me is knowing that for a lot of these men and women, this is their passion. I started out in this line of work recruiting those individuals, and now in my role, I’m able to lead them to be whatever they want to be in the fire service. There are 100 different career paths in the fire service, and I get to steer people in different directions and find ways to utilize their strengths.