In honor of International Firefighters Day we sat down with Luis Gomez, a firefighter and Marine, to take a peek into his world. Thank you Luis, and every other firefighter who puts their lives on the line each day for us. We appreciate you.
"Working as a firefighter isn’t a job where muscle memory eventually makes you good. What makes a firefighter good is that passion inside of you, and the desire to overcome any obstacle to help others. That applies to everyone in the field of emergency medical services."
what made you want to become a firefighter?
To be honest, I didn’t choose this career. In 2007 I decided to enlist in the Marines to fulfill a childhood dream. When I enlisted, I signed up to become an aircraft mechanic, but The Marines had different plans for me. They sent me to Crash, Fire and Rescue school and I had no idea what that was or what I would be doing. I had no choice or say in the matter but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
did your marine corps experience help your career as a firefighter?
I owe everything I have become and accomplished to the Marine Corps. While I know and understand that the military isn’t for everyone and some part ways hating it, the pride of who I am and what I do roots from the good and bad times I endured with the USMC.
what is the most rewarding part of your job?
The thankful expressions and appreciative words every time we help someone. I’ve been trained to be able to help someone in situations most people would barely survive in. The idea that when someone calls us, they are in their worse time, medically or physically, and I can come and make it better. There is no greater feeling in the world than that of being able to help someone no matter what… and the girls dig the uniform.
does being a firefighter affect your daily life outside of work?
Unfortunately yes, firefighting requires a certain commitment most people in the world couldn’t give. It requires giving up many nights away from your own family to be there for other families. In my Fire Department at West Point, we run a 48/72 schedule and it puts me for a full 48 hours in the firehouse. Basically I can’t see my family for 2 days unless they come to visit me. I also don’t get holidays or weekends, since house fires, vehicle accidents, stranded hikers or boaters, medical emergencies, etc. don’t ever take days off. Emergencies during those days usually increase in numbers then since most people take to the streets or do more activities at home. But most of us understand this sacrifice and so do our families. It becomes a part of life.
what is the most challenging part of being a firefighter?
The concept that we can’t save everyone, is a very hard one to accept. So who you save and who you don’t is a heartbreaking decision and you have to live with your choices. Also, we have to live with what we see. Most people when they watch a movie, they turn their eyes away when faced with a harsh or gruesome scene, or something they just can’t stomach. We can’t do that, we have to perform our duties professionally and diligently. It can lead to depression, suicide or just being unable to maintain a house where the end state is divorce or separation from loved ones. Among a bunch of other things.
"Most people when they watch a movie, they turn their eyes away when faced with a harsh or gruesome scene, or something they just can’t stomach. We can’t do that, we have to perform our duties professionally and diligently."
is there one particular experience as a firefighter that has shaped who you are today?
Not one, many, from carrying my own small medical bag in my truck and devices that most people never seen which has helped me assist others.... ie, my best friend and wife locking their vehicle twice, I was able to open it up for them. Another change is being able to appreciate life more. The saying “you never appreciate what you got until you lose it” also applies to “you never really see how great life is, until you are in a bad situation.” By seeing people in bad situations, it makes me thankful that I’m not.
what is the most important value to you and how does that affect your life?
pride, I’ve learned that when balancing pride correctly, it can make you better. For example, if you’re proud of what you do, even in your worst performance you exceed the actions of someone who hates what he/she does. Pride makes you try harder, not give up. Pride makes you put love and care in what you are doing for a better quality outcome or result. I know I can’t let pride swallow me to the point where I don’t ask for help when I should, or to keep holding on to something when it’s time to let go. But that’s where knowledge, experience and learning from my mistakes come in.
brotherhood, I know it says one, but brotherhood is at the same level as pride, since I am no one without the guys and gals next to me. They are the ones that teach me what I know, help me up when I fall, push me when I slow down or think I can’t go anymore. We endure the sad and tough times together and ultimately, that’s what bonds us as a team, as a family. I am no one without them.
what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My Marines, after 11 years in the Marines, I now run and train my own platoon. I now pass my knowledge down and help these eager young devil dogs understand why is it that what we do is the most important job in the world. Sure we need Warriors, accountants, doctors, entertainers, lawyers, and heck, we even need those tax people. But we are those that are ready to help the families of all those listed above when they are away.
In the battle field, when an aircraft goes down, we go and get them out so that they can go home to their families. My greatest accomplishment is when I see it in their eyes when they understand why we do what we do and a new fireman is born.
when things get tough on the job, what motivates you to continue? and how do you help motivate your coworkers?
When “it” hits the fan, our adrenaline and training kicks in. When you train hard and constantly for something, you just want to do it. But I know that if I don’t perform my best, it could end up costing more than if I am faster and more efficient. In a lot of ways, we are self-driven and motivated, especially when your partner is as well, since you don’t want him making fun of you for being slow when back at the firehouse. And we make fun of each other a lot in the firehouse.
if you could give one piece of advice to a future firefighter, what would it be?
Firefighting is a calling, you know in your heart from very early on if you can be one or not. They can teach you to do things but no one can teach you to love this career. Don’t waste your time waiting for “it” to come out. Working as a firefighter isn’t a job where muscle memory eventually makes you good. What makes a firefighter good is that passion inside of you, and the desire to overcome any obstacle to help others. That applies to everyone in the field of emergency medical services.
Pretty much ask yourself these two questions. What is your biggest fear? Are you ready to face it?
So, if you’re scared of the dark, are you ready to go down that really creepy basement without any lights, and crawl around without being able to see until you search every inch to make sure no one is there and only then can you come out. Or are you scared of heights? If so, are you ready to go to the tallest building and go over the edge to help stranded workers’ like glass cleaners? Are you claustrophobic, if so, are you ready to go down a manhole where there is limited movement, potential little oxygen and limited visibility to help a collapsed worker and get him out?
Very few moments in firefighting yields the glory everyone thinks, most of the time, it’s a sacrifice. Its time away from home, family and friends. You sacrifice your own health to help others. And with a line of duty death average of 100+ firefighters a year, some give the ultimate sacrifice. Except of course for 2001, where 343 made the ultimate sacrifice.