My son Mike was thirteen-years-old when his interest in firefighting developed becoming the third generation in a family of firefighters. To me, his transformation seemed instantaneous like the light coming on at the flick of the switch. He began tagging along with me on calls that I chose selectively for time of day and type of call. I didn’t want to expose him to anything really ugly–inevitably that would come if his interest remained.
He started by learning how to rack or reload hose as well as how to change an air cylinder. He picked up the names of various pieces of equipment, both real and slang. I didn’t push him. I’ve seen too many sons join because of their fathers. Either they were forced to sign up or they joined out of some sense of obligation. Most of them, the sons that is, were worthless as firefighters– they really didn’t want to be there and it showed. You can’t manufacture the desire to do this job.
Mike couldn’t wait for his fourteenth birthday which was the required age to submit the paperwork to join as a cadet. He still wouldn’t be allowed to do a whole lot but he could increase his knowledge by taking a few classes. The timing was good as I had hung my white helmet up for good. Now I could concentrate on working with him and observing him in the field. After he joined, just a few weeks went by before he got his first official lesson. He’d only been on a few calls, and none too serious. It was still all cool-looking gear, flashing lights and blaring sirens to him, regardless of the wisdom I tried to impart.