HELP WANTED: Long hours, heavy lifting, dangerous work conditions, life
or death situations. Hot heads and mavericks need not apply. No pay.
While Calvert may be the state's smallest county, their 100 percent
volunteer rescue and firefighting personnel face the type of large
challenges each day that most people can't imagine. Car accidents, house
fires, construction disasters, drownings, forest and brush fires - the
professionals of Calvert County's firehouses charge in while everyone
else scrambles to get out. But don't call them heroes; they're just
doing their jobs.
After spending a couple hours with Company Six in Huntingtown, hearing
the constant chatter of emergency calls filtering through the PA system,
listening to harrowing stories of rescue and danger, and looking into
the eyes of young men who want nothing more than to help people, I ask
an unpopular question: "What's it like to be a hero?"
In unison, four men quickly correct me and insist they are not heroes.
They try to make me realize that it's just work and they're just doing
what they've been trained to do. "It's just a job," they say, "nothing
Now, I have a job, too. I sit at a desk and type and talk on the phone.
I use a photocopy machine and lift the occasional heavy box. Sometimes I
fill in for my co-workers when they go on vacation. But rush into a
burning building with an axe and a firehose? Extricate a screaming
victim from the remnants of a pancaked vehicle in the middle of the
night? No thanks. That's not work I am ready or willing to do.
I also get paid for the work I do. The men and women who rush to the aid
of Calvert County's citizens do it for free. In my book, that has hero
qualities written all over it.
Ricky Grierson, a firefighter for two years, will admit it is sometimes
difficult to serve in the community where you live. "You never know who
is going to be on that call," he says. "It could be a neighbor, or a
friend, or a fellow firefighter." But he loves the work he does and life
at the firehouse.
Perhaps it is because there's a hierarchy in a firehouse. The younger
members are teased and mentored; the older ones tease and mentor. It's a
good system that works well. The firehouse is where they come together
as brothers and sisters to share stories, meals and even heart-to-heart
talks following particularly stressful calls. James Flynt, a
professional firefighter for 16 years, says, "In a firehouse, everybody
is family. You can't find anyplace else in the world that's more
Banded together as closely as any unit of Marines, they abide by a code
of ethics that dictates: "It's everyone, or no one." The work they do -
highly professional, specially trained and carefully regimented - is
done out of concern for their community, the desire to provide a service
and for the care and camaraderie of fellow volunteers. Josh Miller, who
at 16 is one of the youngest volunteers at Company Six, says it is
something he's always wanted to do. "It just feels good to be able to
Flynt states the obvious when he says not everyone is cut out for this
type of work. "Some people aren't made for this; they can't handle the
pressure of having someone's life in their hands. Yes, it's frustrating
when you can't revive someone, but when you get that one person that
you're able to save, it makes it all worthwhile. And when they show up
at the firehouse to thank you, it's just awesome."
Michael Nasti, only 22 years old, knows what it's like to save someone.
He and fellow Huntingtown volunteer, Brian Thrasher, were recipients of
this year's Colburn Cup Trophy from the Maryland State Firemen's
Association for an outstanding act of heroism. They received the honor
in recognition of their response to a Calvert County house fire last
year that involved several victims.
Nasti doesn't recall much from that mission. "You're just going on
adrenaline," he says. "The call went out and the next thing I knew we
were on the scene and I was carrying this lady out by the ankles." That
lady, legally dead at the time, was revived by Nasti and Thrasher and
today refers to the men as her guardian angels.
I make one more attempt at the hero reference, but they will have none
of it. As I mentioned, Company Six's firefighters continue to debate the
definition of a hero with me. But I am convinced that most people will
see it my way because I've met at least four this month.
As with most volunteer organizations, Calvert County's fire-rescue-EMS
system always needs help. They seek new recruits, auxiliary members,
funding partners and general community support. For more information, or
to learn how to get involved, visit online at www.co.cal.md.us/residents/safety/fire/,
call 410-535-1600, or e-mail email@example.com.