Burning Questions: A Day In The Life of a Fire Fighter, Dallas Spence
By: Jan Morgan-Swegle
(Editor’s Note: Our intrepid reporter Jan wondered what it was like to be a firefighter and set out her local fire station to find out. This story and the following are what she found.)
There are many people I admire in this world, but probably none so much as firefighters. You know, those people who run into a burning building while everyone else is running out. It takes a special kind of person to do what these brave people do. One of those people is Dallas Spence, firefighter with Leland Fire/Rescue based at Station 53, 187 Old Lanvale Road in Leland. Dallas is originally from Currituck County and came to this area to attend UNCW.
It’s hard to capture what motivates these people to do what they do, but Dallas has a terrific reason for why he became a firefighter. “I knew I wanted to go into some sort of public service job,” he said, continuing with a grin, “and I chose firefighting over a career in police work because to be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t like the thought of being shot at!”
On a more serious note, Dallas said that he enjoys working as part of a team. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy riding around in a car all day by myself,” he said. “And fighting a fire is a little more of a controlled environment than police work. Fire behavior is pretty predictable. If you understand the type of structure that is burning and what the contents are in that building, you can mitigate the circumstances. To me, that’s a lot easier to handle than dealing with people where you have no idea what they might do. Your training automatically kicks in.”
Dallas talked about training being exactly what he expected, but said that some aspects of it were harder than others. “For example, heights. I never thought I had a problem with heights but when you climb an aerial ladder and you’re way up there, it makes you realize it’s a lot higher than you thought it was,” he said. “But then, you also realize that this is part of the job and it’s something you have to be able to do, so you just learn to do it. You put it in the back of your mind. I have no problem with heights anymore. It all goes back to training. Keep in mind, the equipment, tools and gear you have to take with you weigh about 75 pounds, so you have to get used to carrying around that amount of extra weight.
“We take training very seriously around here. Training or physical training is mandatory. Every day, we go to the gym and work out. One day it might be in gym shorts and a tee shirt, the next day we might incorporate our gear into that workout to make us better suited for any situation. There are some restrictions that the gear creates, like you can’t really look way up or down so first you have to understand the restriction and be able to work around it.”
Another part of being a firefighter is living in a fire house. According to Dallas, “It’s fun. There’s never a dull moment around here. You always have someone to talk with, to laugh with and to train with. Our shifts are 24 hours—7 am to 7 am. This station has seven to eight people here at all times. There’s a sense of brotherhood here that you don’t find in other lines of work.”
In addition to fire calls, the unit is often dispatched to provide other assistance to Leland residents. "We go out on traffic accident calls where we never know what we’re going to find,” Dallas said. “If we have to extinguish a car fire, for example, that’s one of the most dangerous kinds of fires you can have. Some cars have metal in their steering columns. If you hit that hot metal and rapidly cool it with water, it can explode. Factories and industrial areas are also very dangerous.
“We answer 911 calls if EMS is tied up. We respond to life-threatening medical calls and provide care until EMS arrives. We don’t transport people, but there are more fire stations than EMS and ambulance crews, so wherever we can assist, we go.”
One of the things Dallas said he wasn’t expecting as he became a firefighter was how strong his work family ties would be. “My biggest surprise was how quickly you form a bond with the people you are working with,” he said. “You always hear about a brotherhood that exists among people in this line of work but until you are actually in it and doing the job, you don’t really understand it. You very quickly get a second family. We hang out when we are off duty. It’s like, if you aren’t working during the Christmas holiday and are here at the station, you will probably be with other firefighters celebrating at one of their houses. Our families know each other, our kids know each other. They become an extension of your immediate family.”
When Dallas and the rest of the crew at Station 53 aren’t fighting fires, they spend their time serving the community in different ways. They work with our schools on fire prevention and education initiatives. If you are having trouble getting your child’s car seat properly installed they gladly assist, and they even make “house calls” for residents to check out their smoke alarm system and change the batteries.
Whether they are doing a fire rescue, water rescue or repelling down a steep hill to reach climbers who have fallen, there is never a dull moment in the job. “It’s not your typical 9 to 5 office job and it’s not for everybody,” Dallas said. “The schedule is great—we do three 24-hour shifts with a day off in between each shift and then have four days off to do other things. We can continue our education, have a second, part-time job or just be with our families.”
I asked Dallas if he had a message for the people of Leland. He said he did have a simple request. “I want people to know what we do for the community but more than that, I want them to pay attention. Sometimes when we are on the truck going out on a fire call and the sirens are blaring and horns are going off, people don’t seem to know we are there. It’s like they don’t hear us, or they are distracted talking on their phones or texting. They don’t move so we can get through. It’s hard to maneuver that big fire truck with so many people on the road not paying attention to what’s going on around them. We live in a big area, with lots of people—my family, your family, your children. If we are out there, it’s serious. Move, or at least try to so we can get to the emergency that has us on the road.”
I learned a lot about the fire department and their services, and about the men and women of Leland Fire/Rescue who protect us. I learned that the only fear that Dallas and the other firefighters seem to have is the fear of losing people because of the line of work they have chosen as their profession.
The entire time I was at the Station, the song, “Hero,” played in my mind. For if these aren’t true heroes, who are?
Stay safe out there, all of the fire and safety forces in our area. We need you.