The Garden City Telegram
9/7/2013
SOUTHWEST LIFE

At home in the fire house

Becky Malewitz/Telegram Garden City Firefighters Adam Patterson, Luke Freeman, Jeremy Kemp, James Daily and Jason Bennett sit down for dinner at the fire house Thursday evening.
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By ANGIE HAFLICH
ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Amid daily tasks at fire station, firefighters still always at the ready.

Television shows and movies depict firefighters leisurely hanging out at the fire station, waiting for emergency calls. In reality, there is much more to it than that.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, Garden City firefighters train, perform inspections, check and maintain fire hydrants, and perform a variety of other duties, including cleaning and maintaining the fire trucks.

"They don't sit around. It's like any other job. From 8 to 5, they're scheduled with things that we have, business-wise, that go on, in addition to emergency calls," Chief Allen Shelton said.

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts, three days per week.

"They work a 24 on, then they're off for 24, then back on for 24, off, back on for 24, and then they have four days off," Shelton said.

Thursday's 24-hour shift at the central station on Ninth Street consisted of Lt. Jason Bennett and firefighters Luke Freeman, James Daily, Adam Patterson and Jeremy Kemp.

"Just like anybody else, from 8 to 5, we have responsibilities that we have to fulfill throughout the day before 5 o'clock. We have deadlines to meet and stuff," Bennett said. "After 5, that's our chance to wind down and study because school is constant for us. Physical training is also a requirement for the fire department personnel, and then we stand by for calls throughout the night, and then we're clear to go when the next shift comes on at 8 in the morning to relieve us."

The fire station is equipped with a gym that consists of treadmills and weight lifting equipment.

For meals, Freeman said they each contribute $20 for meals that will last them the three days they work.

"That will give us six meals — three lunches and three suppers. A lot of times, we'll make leftover suppers so we can eat it for lunch the next day," he said. "So we do all the cooking here in the kitchen, and then the newer guys clean up and us three guys eat."

The two newer guys are Patterson, who has been with the GCFD for two years, and Kemp, who has been there for one.

"Adam helps me out with a lot of the stuff that would normally be for the lowest man on the totem pole," Kemp said.

Patterson cooked Thursday night's meal — pork tenderloin, corn on the cob and salad.

All of the men agreed that Patterson is the best cook of them all, while Bennett, who is their superior, is considered the worst.

"I had a fire in the oven. It looked like a fireplace," Bennett said, laughing.

Daily said that during off hours, the men behave a lot like 12-year-old boys. An example of this behavior came as they made their plates, when Freeman pulled a joke on Kemp, hiding the barbecue sauce from him.

"It's kind of hard to describe. It's being away from the family. When you're home with your wife and kids, you're Dad. When we get down here, it's like a whole other family dynamic. We're just a bunch of brothers," Daily said.

The men have spent so much time together that they even understand each other's noises, he said.

"It's like we know what they're talking about with their noises. Adam and his whistle. Adam will say, 'Hey go get the,' and then whistle and you're like, 'Oh alright, I'll get it,'" he said, prompting laughter from everyone.

The men are ever ready to respond to emergency calls, at all hours of the night. Bennett said it's sometimes difficult for them to comprehend what's going on when an alert wakes them up in the middle of the night.

"As soon as the alert time goes off, your ears kind of pin back and you go into a full sensory overload because the lights are coming on all across the bunk room, and you have to understand what they're saying (over the intercom), as well, and then you have to add walking and trying not to trip," he said. "In under a minute, the four of us are getting dressed, and then the driver, if he needs to, is referring to the map to see where we're going and stuff. So one minute after waking up from a dead sleep, we're traveling down the road going to a structure fire where we could be right in the middle of 600- to 800-degree fire."

This quick reaction was demonstrated on Thursday afternoon, when the crew received an alert for a vehicle accident involving a driver who lost control of the pickup he was driving and struck the guard rail of the Main Street bridge that crosses the Arkansas River bed. The men jumped into their gear and were down the road within a couple of minutes.

While there were no injuries at that accident, some of the firefighters are trained to prepare patients for transport by Emergency Medical Services.

"Some of us are EMT-certified to assist with patient care, packaging, which means putting them on spine boards, in neck braces," Freeman said.

Last year, on average, the crew responded to about two and a half incidents per day. Patterson said that on some days, no calls come in, and on other days, they might get as many as 10.

"We don't ever know what we're going to come to. We could do all nothing all day, and then tonight, we could be busy, busy, busy," he said.

Every Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m., all of the Garden City Fire Department's full-time firefighters attend training, either at one of the stations or at the burn tower at Garden City Community College.

"Thursday night training, both stations meet, and we do have volunteers still, and they'll all meet here and we'll go over some type of training topic, so they can get in on training, too, because the volunteers aren't here every day," Patterson said.

Bennett said the training keeps the volunteers at the forefront of all the technologies and techniques.

He said for full-time firefighters, working 24-hour shifts can make it difficult on their families.

"The spouses have to be independent and strong when we're gone and stuff. It really weighs on them," he said. "When I see my 3-year-old daughter after working a shift, she says, 'I miss you. I miss you.'"

Families are allowed to visit the men after 5 p.m. each day. On Thursday, Kemp's wife, Megan Kemp, stopped by.

"He's starting to get a cold, so I brought him some medicine and we rented a DVD last night, so I'm assuming they're going to watch it later," she said.

Bennett said members of the community also show a lot of love and support to the department.

"People will think of us and bring by a nice, warm plate of chocolate chip cookies. That's our favorite," he said.