This part two of the story. Please go read part one here if you have not already
One September Morning in 2001, this all changed. My shift didn’t start until 13:00. I was still asleep. My wife called, said I should turn on the TV. I was not awake for more than ten minutes; my fire pager went off, all available personnel report to your station. The reaction within the tourist industry post September 11 was severe. Budgets were cut extremely fast; everyone was under pressure to do more with less. I was once again looking at my career options. A friend, back in high school once asked me “if you like firefighting so much why don’t you get paid to do it?”. The only two things I know how to do are fire fighting and lighting. We had visited the Louisville area November 2001 (where my wife is from). Her brother in law worked as a career firefighter up there. We asked him how one would get hired up here as a fire fighter, and got a lead on a department that might be hiring their first full time crews in the near future. He advised me to get my EMT certification, all the fire departments around here run BLS first response with the EMS agency.
January 2002 I enrolled in an EMT basic class. This was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. I worked all day, and went to class three nights a week. I studied, crammed bones, muscles, algorithms in my head all with my wife’s help. I finished the class, did my ride time and waited for the dreaded NREMT test. Still in written form, this two hour test was the dreaded monster that awaited all of us in class. I was the second one to finish in the testing session. We had to wait for notification in the mail to know if we passed.
Friday after the test, I took some overtime at work. It was a slow day for us & I spent time surfing the web and doing a little research. I would periodically look at a web site known as the Kentucky Fire Wire. I noticed a job posting for the department that my future brother in law told me about. The department was officially hiring a full time crew working 24/48 shift. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I had two days before the deadline. I had not received my EMT test results. I would need to put in my two week notice at Disney the following Monday if I was going to go up to Louisville to test for the department. My EMT test results were going to make my decision for me. If I passed before the deadline, I would apply. Saturday, I checked the mail. There was a large envelope from NREMT in my mailbox. I had heard that a large envelope meant you passed and a small envelope meant you failed. I did not trust the wives tale. I was elated to find the congratulations letter from NREMT & my EMT-B patch enclosed! I actually passed! My wife made me promise that I would follow through if I passed, so I abruptly submitted my resignation, mailed in my application and made plans to move to Kentucky.
My wife would remain another three weeks in Florida. I was on my own in a state I didn’t know for two weeks. I did have a lot of help from her family. After spending the day locating the fire house and trying to find my way around the area I took the written test on a Tuesday evening. The applicants were told that we would be notified by phone if we passed. Three days went by. I had not heard from them. To hedge my bets I was also applying to local EMS agencies. I did not expect to pass on the first try but I did want to know my results. I phoned the Assistant Chief. He told me that if I did not receive a phone call then I did not make a high enough score on the written test. Defeated, I was instantly down. I wanted to do well, but I doubted that I could have passed. There was a long pause in the conversation. “Wait, you’re on the list, I wonder why you didn’t get a call” the AC said. What? I passed? “What time on Thursday can you come take the physical agility” he asked. I was wide open all day and got an afternoon timeslot.
I had to borrow bunker gear from the AC since I did not have any of my own. We did not get the results of the physical agility test, everyone who tested was to report to the fire house for a panel interview. Hot and sweaty a group of ten prospective fire fighters waited around in the bay for our name to be called. I did not think the interview went well, but was pleased that I at least got this far my first time. Saturday they would be making calls to the top candidates with job offers. I didn’t leave my apartment all day. As afternoon came I was losing hope again. My phone rang for the only time that day around 4pm. The Assistant Chief offered me a position as a firefighter. I accepted (then promptly jumped around the room and could not contain my excitement). Luck? Devine intervention? Who the heck knows, I still do not know how I got that job.
Five years into my career as a fire fighter, I decided it was time to give a paramedic class a try. I had many reasons (a backup plan, more part time money, I really liked the EMS aspect of my job) and now was the time to advance my knowledge. Our family helped with the cost of the schooling. Two grueling years later I had another reason to celebrate. I was now a licensed paramedic. I took part time work with a private EMS agency in the city. I did not know what the future was going to hold for me, but now I had career options. Being in a small fire department has many advantages, and disadvantages. Promotions were few and far between. Two recent rounds happened while I was in paramedic school. I did not feel I could properly study for the sergeants’ exam and paramedic class. I had time and money invested in medic school so I continued that, hoping to take promotional tests in the future.
Life changes faster then we can imagine. October 2009 was time once again to make a choice. Family matters and work issues left me wondering if I was on the right path. I made another gut move and left the fire department taking a full time position with a private EMS agency.
Seven months later, I’m still here. I have a few regrets about leaving the fire department, but it was the right choice at the time for me and my family. My wife and I have had a few challenging months. We are trying to find our footing again. I feel like I need to move on from private EMS, it was a temporary solution. It is 03:45am. I’m finishing the last day of my work week before my four days off. I want more from my paramedic career, and I just don’t think I can get it here.
I have been truly fortunate. I have enjoyed my work life. I miss theater, fire fighting, not basement waterproofing. The winds of change have led me in the right direction even if I didn’t know where I was going. I’m here again and I don’t know which way the winds are blowing.