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What's it like to live a 24-hour shift as a firefighter?

Posted at 6:13 AM, Apr 19, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — Many of us have dreamed about what it's like to be a firefighter, and I recently learned you can't really understand what it's like, until you walk, 24 hours in their shoes along side them.

Whenever I meet people they often ask me about the weird and work schedule I work, waking up at 2 a.m. Monday through Friday to anchor News5 Today. I recently found out there’s a group of professionals who work a schedule that is far more challenging.

Stratmoor Hills Fire Chief Shawn Bittle invited me to join his team for a day, and going in I had no idea what I was in for.

First, I was not expecting to be issued a full set of bunker gear for the shift - not that I would be getting anywhere close to danger - but I quickly gained an appreciation for how bulky and heavy this critical safety gear is.

I also had to learn how to put a full set of firefighters' PPE, called bunker gear, or turn outs - on quickly. The general industry standard is 60 seconds. I got it down to about 1:02 which is a fail, but still fast enough from my ride-along purposes.

Our first call came in late morning, for a fire alarm at a local hotel that’s been converted to apartments. Turned out to be a small cooking fire, that Colorado Springs Fire also responded to and beat us, so they handled that call.

It was about lunch time and we had just ordered and paid for lunch at Alfonso’s Mexican Food near the station, when another call came in so we abandoned our lunch, and told the folks at Alfonso’s we would be back. They did a great job keeping the food warm and fresh for us.

The call was a low acuity medical call for a female who was suffering severe back pain, and needed help getting to the hospital. We had one call in the afternoon for what turned out to be a fender bender. I watched as the crew calmed some frazzled nerves and helped get the road clear for traffic.

Then it was time to go to sleep, and I discovered that as tired as I was from waking up at 2 a.m. that morning, going to sleep knowing that a call could come in at anytime was nerve-racking.

Sure enough after I finally fell asleep at around 11:30 the call came in for a fire. Turned out to be an actual dumpster fire and while in the big picture it’s no structure fire, there are still dangers to be mitigated because there’s no way to tell exactly what was on fire in the dumpster.

The C shift from Stratmoor Hills made quick work of the fire, and it was out in a couple minutes.

My biggest take away from my 24-hour ride along was how mentally challenging it was to always be ready to drop whatever was going on, and be suited up and out the door in 90 seconds. I was second guessing even simple things like going to the bathroom. I’m told it’s just something our first responders get used to, with lots of training, preparation and experience.

I can tell you I'll never see a fire truck or an EMS crew around town, and take what they do - day in and day out - to safe guard our community for granted. They deserve our respect and our thanks. Like all of our first responders, they do hard things - every single day.
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