So what exactly does a firefighter do? Fight fires, right? Not exactly. There is more to the life of a firefighter than meets the eye.
I spent a little more than a half of a 24-hour shift Tuesday with Capt. Kurt Doree and Engineer Lance Davis at the Brainerd Fire Hall located on 23 Laurel St., Brainerd, to get a sneak peak of what their lives as a firefighter entail.
The Brainerd Fire Department has seven full-time equipment operators and Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek. Six of the firefighters — Doree, Davis, Mark Turner, Cory Zeien, Clint Langerud and Kevin Tengwall — rotate 24-hour shifts with their partner to man the main fire station on Laurel Street, 24-7. The seventh firefighter, Charlie Dunemann, mans the Northeast Fire Station. Also at the main fire station is Elaine Kraemer, administrative specialist, who works five days a week.
Firefighters are trained extensively on responding to various fire calls, whether it be a structure fire or smaller house fire, such as burnt food or a dryer fire, or a vehicle fire, gas leaks, general fire alarms and more. They also are trained emergency medical technicians (EMT) and respond to medical calls. A combination of their fire and medical skills, they also respond to personal injury crashes, where they may use their fire training to extricate victims out of the vehicle if necessary, extinguish any fires if needed and use their EMT skills to help the victim medically. They also assist with traffic if need be.
Firefighters never know what their shift will have in store for them. They could have no calls in their 24-hour shift, they could have up to a dozen or anything in-between. They don’t know. All they know is they are ready to respond to anything — whether it is a call of a serious nature, such as a fatal or a lighter call such as a faulty fire alarm.
Davis said when he walks into the fire station, his mindset changes from being a citizen to a firefighter. Davis said firefighters have to make life, altering decisions in a split second.
“You have to have a different set of mind because when that phone rings you have to think and it can be exhausting mentally,” said Davis. “If there is a structure fire there could be lives in danger and those people are counting on you as a firefighter to save them.”
Doree said, “You don’t sleep well here (at the fire station) because you’re always waiting for the buzzer to ring, so you are always uneasy, so you don’t miss a call. No matter where you are — on or off duty — you always have a pager on. You get trained like a dog to respond when it goes off.”
Doree has been a firefighter since 1994, with 10 years in Maplewood and 8 1/2 years in Brainerd. Doree first trained to became an emergency medical technician after a friend interested him in the medical field. He then expanded his skills into the firefighting world.
“It’s a huge rush,” said Doree. “People call us on their worse day for help. It feels good to help people.”
Davis has been a full-time equipment operator for seven years.
“I’ve always liked the thought of being part of a team and serving my community,” said Davis. “The most rewarding part of the job is helping people who truly need it.”
Besides responding to calls, Doree said firefighters also conduct inspections at businesses, day cares and other organizations; conduct fire extinguisher training to the public; conduct fire education for children and do school and other youth tours; and also host birthday parties for children.
In their down time they perform daily work at the fire station on their fire trucks and equipment to make sure they are all working properly.
“It was a very rare day,” Doree said of Tuesday’s shift, as there were no medical calls, only one fire call and they responded to a two-vehicle personal injury crash.