Firefighters stay dedicated to job
Published 12:00 pm Monday, February 24, 2014
The image of firefighters sitting around the station watching TV and relaxing while waiting on the next big fire is a common misconception.
There are about 120 men and women operating out of seven stations that make up the Vicksburg Fire Department. They fight fires and put their lives on the line, but the reality of their daily lives is much more complex than that.
They respond to medical calls, wrecks, search and rescue operations and train constantly. They are asked to respond to situations that are as diverse and unique as the people who put on the turnout gear.
There are three different 24-hour shifts — A, B and C shifts — that rotate duties at VFD. Most firefighters work 24 hours on duty and 48 off.
On duty Friday is the A shift, which means they get a full weekend off to spend time with friends and family but they also have additional duties.
Shift change happens at 7 a.m. and the work starts immediately. Equipment and trucks are checked to make sure they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. Regular cleaning takes place daily, sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash, but on Fridays they go the extra mile. Walls and baseboards are cleaned, the refrigerator is cleaned out and everything gets a deeper cleaning.
On Friday, Jeremy Moffett, a new firefighter, was upstairs wiping down walls in the kitchen. Moffett, a Vicksburg native, has a degree in graphic design from Mississippi College, but needed something to help him get by while launching his design business.
“I needed something stable,” Moffett said. “With this I can still build my business while I work.”
Many firefighters have that same story, they started out thinking it might be a fun, adventurous job and end up staying with it for the long haul.
Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins got on as a probationary firefighter with VFD when he was 27. In May, he’ll have 30 years of service with the department.
Fire and medical calls pop up throughout the day, but they train whenever they can to keep up on perishable skills. Some days may be medical, wreck or fire training, but today is hillside rescue operations.
Last week, firefighters took turns rappelling down Fort Hill two at a time in Vicksburg National Military Park where a dummy in distress waited on them midway down the hill. Once they got the dummy secured to a litter and hooked to a rope, they and the dummy continue to the bottom where they completed the task.
After a long day of training they return to the fire station, wash the trucks back to a spotless state and start looking for some dinner. Once again, calls may pop up, mostly medical-related, but they try to relax and settle in for the evening.
Assistant Chief Craig Danczyk, who is in charge of the A shift, set out to check on his other stations and take care of some paperwork. He’s about 10 hours behind on his day because of the long training, but he’s undeterred and unnaturally energetic considering he’s been working for more than 12 hours.
“Your typical job, you go to work for eight hours then go home. Here you don’t go home until the next day,” he said. “Your heart has to be into it.”
Danczyk has been a battalion chief for four years, but he still remembers his first fire as a shift commander like it was yesterday. Five structures were engulfed in flames when he arrived on the scene and although it was midnight, it looked like daylight because the fire was so intense, he said.
“I parked the car and took one second, I remember thinking to myself ‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this, it’s supposed to be one house,’” he said. “Then I just thought ‘It’s time to go to work.’”
That trial by fire was the “big one” for Danczyk, but every day is different.
Back at the station, the firefighters are bedding down and hoping that it will be an alarm clock that wakes them in the morning in time to be relieved of duty and not a call to respond to a wreck or fire. Only time will tell.