Rule number one: Avoid starting one.
Tom Wicks, D.P.M.’94, a podiatric physician in Chickasha, OK, is a volunteer firefighter and chief medical officer for the third-largest fire department and the largest volunteer department in the state. His advice:
- Know where the fire risks are in your home and workplace, such as kitchens and fireplaces.
- Practice fire drills at your home and office.
- Change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year. Wicks’ family pegs this with the beginning and end of daylight savings time.
Once a fire has started, Wicks says having a well-trained, reliable team is key. “We have professional courtesy. Firefighters share the same risks whether they’re volunteers or 20-year pros in Los Angeles,” he notes.
And they need to be ready for anything. In his more than eight years in the department, Wicks has dealt with building fires, grass fires and a bomb threat at his child’s school. At a warehouse fire, gas-filled shock absorbers stored in the building began exploding – “there were shafts of metal coming at us,” he recalls; at a house fire during a blizzard, he came close to sliding off the icy roof. He deals with it by applying his analytical skills as a physician.
“That helps you think about the big picture,” he says. “When I arrive at the fire, I do a walk-around to see what we need to do, rather than rush in and become part of the problem.”
Despite the dangers of firefighting, Wicks says he’s “blessed” to do the job. He once got a bear hug from a sobbing “guy who looked like Grizzly Adams” who thanked him for putting out a fire.
“That makes it worth it,” Wicks says.
There’s another factor, he explains: “The local hospital CEO recently asked me, ‘How do you get guys to run into burning buildings?’ I asked him, ‘Well, how do you get surgeons to cut into people?’ The adrenaline rush is no different between firefighting and surgery.”
Photo © istockphoto William Melton