Interview of a Volunteer Firefighter during the Covid-19

Here is a little insight on what volunteer firefighters do and what hardships they may encounter during this tough period of time!
By respect, I will not mention a name for this interview.

How long have you been a volunteer firefighter for?
– I’ve been engaged as a firefighter for almost a year now. I spent last summer passing all of my fire and rescue courses, so in September I was entirely trained and ready to go on almost all of the firefighter interventions.

Why did you want to become a firefighter?
– A lot of people dream of being a firefighter when they are little kids. For some, this dream lives on to when they are older and actually become firefighters, and for others, this dream dies away and is replaced by a new one.
– I actually never really thought about becoming a firefighter until one or two years ago, and it completely changed my life! I wanted to feel useful and help my community in any way that I could and the firefighters were the right choice for me. I discovered a whole new universe I never knew existed and immediately fell in love with it.

Does anything in this job scare you in any way?
– Well, first of all, if a firefighter says he or she is afraid of nothing, then I would be worried. Fear, as long as it is controlled, can be a good thing. Without fear, people can be completely senseless and not think of the consequences of their actions, thus causing them to get seriously hurt. A little bit of apprehension coursing through your veins: that’s what keeps you on your toes and reactive to everything around you.
– So yes, some things can scare me on the job, but it’s not going to stop me from doing it. I’m mostly thinking about big apartment fires or forest fires. Those are the most impressive and can be very dangerous if you’re not careful. Fire can be very unpredictable, so we have to be extra attentive. Most of the time, in intervention, adrenaline kicks in and you barely have time to think, you just act. The hardest part is after: when you go home, adrenaline starts to calm down and reality kicks in…
– But these are the risks of the job, and it’s what we’re here for!

What would you say was your most difficult experience as a firefighter?
– Well, a horrible experience I have to say I don’t have one yet. I haven’t been on very drastic interventions yet. I haven’t seen someone die yet, or seen what a huge accident can cause to people. I do know I will be confronted to these situations one day, but it just hasn’t happened to me for now.

During this confinement period, have many things changed for you as a volunteer?
– Well, because of the coronavirus, everyone is now confined at home and much less people are getting hurt. Our activity has thus decreased 30% since March, and it has even decreased even more in other cities. Since the confinement, we also have a lot more firefighters available to go on interventions.
– I live in a small village, so usually during the week we just barely have 3 people to take the ambulance. Now, we have around 15 people available during the week and almost 23 on weekends. This enables us to share the responsibilities of going out on intervention and the stress of the coronavirus. Everyone is as engaged as possible during this tough time.

What kind of additional personal protections do you have facing the coronavirus?
– As firefighters, we are all very well equipped facing the coronavirus. Each time we are called for a “respiratory distress”, we consider it a covid-19 suspicion and equip ourselves. We try to limit the number of people in contact with the virus, so only one team member equips themselves completely. The protections we have are: a tunic, a hygiene cap, glasses, an FFP2 mask and two pairs of gloves. Usually the chief accompanies the crew member equipped with a mask and gloves, but his exposition to the person needs to be limited, or else he decides to equip himself entirely as well. It really depends on the gravity of the situation, but we are as well protected as possible.

Have you noticed more difficulties during this tough period mentally to face certain interventions?
– Obviously, these aren’t regular times. Even during daily activities, or an occasional stop to the supermarket to buy vital necessities, we are all afraid of catching the corona virus. I think it is harder for some people than others. Some families have a family member at home who is more liable to catching it than others, more fragile (asthma etc.), and they don’t want to put them in danger. Such worries are very normal. Of course, it is mentally difficult for everyone, which is why we are very careful to limit the number of people exposed to the virus. And also why we are encouraged in the fire station to be as much available as possible. The more available we are, the more we can share the load mentally and make it easier for everyone.
– It is a rough time to go through, but once it will be finished, we will have done our part.

Why would you recommend someone to become a volunteer firefighter?
– I think that if you are physically fit, have free time on your hands, and want to help the community, becoming a volunteer firefighter is the way to do it. Having that feeling of being useful and saving lives … it’s something you can’t imagine until you live it, and it really is an amazing experience.
– Small villages or even big cities are always looking for new volunteers because they don’t have enough. As a firefighter, you discover a whole new world, and your colleagues become like a second family to you. As a teacher of mine once said: “Being a firefighter: it’s not just a job, it’s a passion.” Obviously, you can’t be sensitive to blood and have to be ready to confront bad situations, but in the end: it is all worth it. There are a lot of good moments too.
– Nonetheless, becoming a firefighter isn’t the only way you can help your community. Not everyone is fit for it and that’s okay. There are so many ways to show your love and support to others, all it takes is a small gesture!

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