Prepared for anything

Being a firefighter means being ready to tackle more than just fires

BREMERTON — Emergencies don’t take a break. That’s why fire stations always have crews ready for anything — even on holidays.

I rode along with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Station 41 on Valentine’s Day to get a sense of what crew life is all about. Although Feb. 14 isn’t a typical day for the average American, it was a rather slow day for the B shift, in terms of business.

“Working Valentine’s Day is really not the worst [day] to work for me,” MacKinley Holt, a probationary firefighter and paramedic, said. “In fact, my wife and I have been together for over three years and I still have never seen her on that day.”

However, holidays such as Christmas can be more difficult to work, he said. So, the station crews do their best to “make those special days more special.”

That’s where the idea of having a home away from home comes into play. Apparatus Officer Amanda Rohr said her crew is like an extended family because a third of their lives is spent together at the fire station or responding to emergencies.

“We live together, eat together and have to be willing to put our lives in each others’ hands,” she said.

Firefighter Carl Tesch agreed. He said crews are “definitely family.”

“I think this is one of the most attractive parts of the job,” he said. “It’s more than a few coworkers getting along. We create friendships. Our families get together, we visit the hospital when babies are born, we go to weddings. It’s a very tight-knit group that extends beyond just this department.”

Most shift members clocked in that morning. Rohr said it’s not uncommon for firefighters and paramedics to be on call for 24 or 48 hours at a time. That means — especially when they’re busy — naps and snacks can go a long way.

A quiet morning allowed the crew plenty of time to run through drills, which they do periodically. Nicknamed “Probie,” Holt led the drills to practice what he’s learned since joining the staff.

He nonchalantly tore off a car door to a van that had been donated to the station. In some instances, crews need to do this to save people trapped inside when car doors won’t open. Using rescue tools, he was able to spread the door away from what connected it to the car frame, eventually popping it off.

“Your turn,” he added with a chuckle. Needless to say, I required extra hands and time to get the technique (somewhat) down.

Holt then led the second drill in which he practiced opening a locked, metal door. And it’s not like the movies, he said. Firefighters don’t go around kicking in doors when they need to get inside a building. Instead, there’s a fast-paced, extensive and safer process that crews must follow.

Tesch and Holt hopped into a firetruck to bring it and the hundreds of gallons of water it holds toward a three-story, concrete building. We were going to practice putting out a fire for the final drill. Trying to get me more involved with the exercise, I was asked to lead the water hose up to the top story.

Believe it or not, I had the less physically demanding workout. Behind me was Holt, who was running up and down the stairs to pull slack so I could lead it around rails and corners.

When we reached the top, Holt knelt to get a better grip on the water pressure. Before I let it rip, he said, with sweat running down his face, “Man, this is easy.”

There’s an even larger and heavier water hose attached to the firetruck. It is much more difficult to maneuver, Holt said. Naturally, it took some time before I could get a handle on the hose. By the end of the exercises, I came to the realization that I needed to work out more.

Speaking of workouts, crews have exercise equipment in the station along with their own rooms. If you didn’t see the equipment or emergency vehicles, you might even think you were in someone’s house. And, in a way, I was.

Rohr said the crew takes turns making or providing lunch and dinner. One day it may be her duty. The next day, it might be Tesch’s.

Just after lunch, she and the others anticipated an afternoon without major calls. But just then, the radios sounded. Jumping up from wherever they were after lunch, the crew members speedily prepared for the medical call.

Here, I witnessed the progression of the crew making contact with the patient, assessing the situation and then transporting the patient to hospital staff.

Following the emergency, Holt asked if I was OK, since I had never been on a medical call before. He said he views medical emergencies differently than when he started, now understanding how they can affect others. Because most people focus on the emotion and high pressure during those emergencies, he said his focus is simply on doing his job to aid the patient.

Tesch agreed, adding that emotions don’t get the best of him because he’s actively thinking about the steps he has to take during an emergency to potentially save a life. And that’s what being part of the crew is all about, he said.

Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at

Prepared for anything