Pushing the Reset Button is a chapter from a book I am writing. It will be updated with the next segment every couple of weeks. To get notifications of updates please go to FaceBook and click like to follow my FaceBook page.
My one of my dreams as a child was to become a fireman. I would ride on the big red fire engine, pull hose off the truck and run into burning buildings. I could pull some poor soul from the jaws of death and return them safe and sound to the family that loved them do very much. Along with the brave men beside me, we would put out big fires, little fires, pull cats from trees and be heroes. We would march in the village holiday parades and someday I would meet the love of my life, who of course would just adore firemen. Just like in the movies and on TV!
We would make our lives together, things would be just like a story book, me the hero and her, the loving wife and mother of my children. All of our friends would be firemen and they would have wives and children too. There would be the BBQ’s and picnics, parades and tournaments. We would all be great friends and grow old and retire together and remain friends until the very end. This was the dream of nearly every young boy in America and I was no different.
I became an Explorer with Post 344, sponsored by the Valley Stream Volunteer Fire Department, Long Island, New York. The explorer program would hook me for life and help me build friendships that have lasted a lifetime or until death. When I turned 18 I became a member of Engine Company #1, VSFD. I was very proud (maybe too proud) of my status as a volunteer firemen. Again, I would build friendships for life or until death and see many of my friends hurt and scarred for life, both physically and emotionally.
In less than four short years I would get married, lose two close friends (killed in the line of duty) and see several more seriously injured and some walk away from the fire service. Reality set in and I didn’t like it at all. The parents of my wife moved to Florida shortly after we married; she wanted to follow them and so we did. We moved to Sarasota, Florida in June of 1980 where I would fairly quickly get hired by the City of Sarasota Fire Department. They put me through the fire academy and again I began to build more friendships for a lifetime or until death. I was not the strongest, not the fastest, not even the smartest in my fire academy but I probably loved the fire service as much or even more than anyone else in my academy class.
The fire service was my first love, my mistress for as long as I could remember. I have fond memories of growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s just blocks away from the fire house where I would see these men, big men, strong men, hard drinking, hard playing men who were kind to a boy who had no father. They raced off on the fire trucks, lights and sirens, saved lives then came back and let me help them get things back in order and ready for the next alarm.
I had to make my efforts worthy of all of their kindness towards me and the bravery they exhibited over the years. I had something to prove, to myself and to them. To me, that I could do it, to them that they had made a difference in my life; the neighborhood kid who hung out at the firehouse. I persevered. I graduated the academy, became an emergency medical technician, paramedic, fire service instructor, fire inspector, EMT and paramedic instructor and I tied for 3rd on the lieutenants exam the first time I took it. Then the exam results were thrown out and the test postponed for another year due to an administrative reason.
I was broken and mad. I finally got to the point where I could be recognized for my accomplishments and it had been taken away from me. I took this as a reason to make changes and I did. I put myself through the law enforcement academy while still working at the fire department. Two weeks before the end of the academy I was offered a job as a deputy sheriff by Sarasota County Sheriff Geoff Monge. It was a significant reduction in pay but it was a fresh start from what I perceived as “politics” at the fire department and I jumped!
As soon as I completed field training as a deputy sheriff, I joined the Sarasota County Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic. I spent the next 11 years as a volunteer fire-medic working with men and women I had known for years, some I went through the fire academy with, some I had met over the years and others who had been mentors to me. For 11 years, I volunteered until the demands of being a husband, a father of two daughters, a college student, a law enforcement officer and supervisor, a law enforcement instructor and a volunteer firefighter/paramedic became too much and something had to give. I reluctantly resigned my position as a volunteer firefighter/paramedic and allowed all of fire service and EMS certifications to lapse. It was a reluctant and clean but painful break. For the first time in over 23 years I was not a firefighter.
Fortunately for me my career in law enforcement gave me the opportunity to work closely with my friends at the fire department. As a detective I was assigned arson investigation. As a sergeant, I was asked to work closely with the fire department to help initiate several programs including the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Team (ERT) which worked closely with the fire department special operations unit. The ERT missions of disaster response, tactical search and rescue, weapons of mass destruction response planning, all overlapped with the fire department. It was good to see and work with my old friends again.
After 38 years of emergency services (1976 to 2014) the time had come for me to retire. Coming with that end was a move to Western North Carolina and an opportunity to continue serving. I applied for the position of Chief of Public Safety at the Asheville Regional Airport. I counted it as a long shot but after a national search I was one of 3 selected for the final interview with the airport administration. The job ultimately went to the insider, no real big surprise. I was thrilled to have made it to that point but also disappointed to not get selected as I knew that I would be up for the challenge and could help with what I realized was a somewhat struggling agency.
Within a few months of the interview we moved to the Hendersonville, North Carolina area and began construction on our new house. I joined the Etowah Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Rescue Department two months after we moved to North Carolina. I tried working some menial jobs and began applying for several more in the law enforcement/security field. No bites. Nearly 26 years in law enforcement, retired as a lieutenant in special operations, seven and a half years assigned to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and half way through my master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration and I can’t even find a job as a security guard.
The Etowah Fire Department sponsored me to an EMT class at the Blue Ridge Community College. It was a combination on-line and classroom style program over a period of a few months. Having been a paramedic for 15 years (although expired for 15 more years) the most difficult part for me was to try and think basic skills rather than advanced skills. Some things had changed over the years but for the most part it was all very familiar. Four days after taking the state exam I was notified I passed the state exam!
I decided I would try to pursue my fire fighter certification. After contacting the North Carolina State Fire Marshal’s Office I had been told that my old fire certification from Florida would not be recognized by North Carolina because there was no ProBoard of IFSAC endorsement attached to it and to contact either organization to see if they could test me to get an endorsement. The ProBoard sent me to the Florida State Fire Marshal as did IFSAC because when I became Florida certified there were no agreements with either organization and the State of Florida. The Florida Fire Marshal sent me back to the ProBoards and IFSAC. As far as getting certified as a fire fighter in North Carolina I’m dead in the water. It is time to hit the restart button at the age of 57.
North Carolina allows volunteer firefighters to take a series of separate classes that compose the minimum standards for firefighter certification. At the Blue Ridge Community College volunteer firefighters can attend any of these “modular” classes at the fire academy or attend the entire academy and test for the classes they need to get certified. So, on June 15th, 2015 I went to the first day of the academy to register to start taking ‘some’ of the classes. I thought I would just take them as I could and eventually get certified in North Carolina and maybe find a part time job as a firefighter (those jobs do exists here). Of course, after about 5 minutes of talking with the program coordinator I was the newest and oldest student in the Blue Ridge Community College Fire Academy.
I did it! I hit the restart button. I have come full circle back to the fire service. I am in the fire academy at the age of 57. I am old enough to be the father to almost everyone in the academy class and many of the instructors as well. I got this! I can do this! I have done it all before and I can do it all again. I won’t be as fast, as strong or as smart as some of my classmates but I am only 57, not 77, right? I think so.
©Alden L. Doane 2015