Many of these firemen didn’t want their picture taken, but they smiled for the camera anyway. Pictured (L to R) are Lt. Brian Drobitsch, Brandon Whitcraft, Branson Byrer, Kyle Martin, Tony Shilling, Quinten Stamper, Battalion Chief Aaron Bolinger and Josh Engler. Photo by Amanda Bridgman, Times-Union.
Many of these firemen didn’t want their picture taken, but they smiled for the camera anyway. Pictured (L to R) are Lt. Brian Drobitsch, Brandon Whitcraft, Branson Byrer, Kyle Martin, Tony Shilling, Quinten Stamper, Battalion Chief Aaron Bolinger and Josh Engler. Photo by Amanda Bridgman, Times-Union.
If you've never thanked a firefighter, you should.

I spent Tuesday morning rolling with the C-shift crew at Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory station 2, and man, was it interesting. While we didn't respond to any fires, we did go on a medical run in the rescue truck and I had plenty of time to see what life at the house is all about. The humble heroes who put up with me all day were firefighters Josh Engler, Kyle Martin, Branson Byrer, Lt. Brian Drobitsch and Battalion Chief Aaron Bolinger.

The cool parts of my day included going up in the ladder truck 102 feet, overlooking Center Street. Pulling on the full gear with air took me a lot longer than 30 seconds, and I needed help, but once it was all on, it weighed more than 50 pounds. I can't imagine running into hot fires, in the middle of the hot summer, wearing all of that. But they all do it.

We went in the rescue truck to visit the other stations. I sat in the middle seat in the back and learned some interesting things during the trip. For starters, sit down, buckle up and remain seated. If your butt leaves your seat, sirens inside the truck go off and you have to unclick and rebuckle your belt. I also learned that fire departments don't use scanner codes like police codes anymore. Martin told me fire departments used to use codes, but after 9/11 that changed. So many different fire responders arrived to the scene using varying codes, that it became hard to understand.

"So now fire departments use plain English on the scanner," he told me.

We first went to station 3 – the newest station – at 620 W. CR 200S. When we rolled up, I was told this station is considered the “Taj Mahal.” I saw why. The kitchen is five-star, the bunk rooms are immaculate, the storage is sufficient and that's not even mentioning the back patio. It was there that I learned each station has different pieces of equipment. At station 3, they have the grass truck. I noticed two little nozzles on the front of the bumper, so fireman Quinten Stamper started it up and sprayed water all over the bay to show me how it worked. It really was the perfect, useful piece of equipment to fight grass fires.

Next up we went to the training facility and the burn tower. A completely metal tower, they are able to start fires to train. There's a car attached to a gas line they fill with pallets and light on fire to practice, and I crawled through an obstacle course where the floors fall out and the ceilings come down (although they didn't let that happen to me). It was hard for me to get through certain tight spots, to which Drobitsch just said, "You gotta get skinny." Because they do, and will, and have to, get through. Doing that in the dark, filled with smoke takes real skill and real guts.

They all acknowledged when you can't see, your other senses kick in. For example, Drobitsch will sometimes use the trim of the floor to help him navigate a house. Engler said taking note of the kind of flooring is also helpful, like tile might mean you are in the kitchen or a bathroom.

Next we went to station 1, at 109 E. Main St., downtown. When we walked in, a conversation about 9/11 was being had and some homemade beef jerky (on the salty side but delicious) was being offered. Station 1 is equipped with a rescue boat and the water tanker. The rescue boat was inflatable but had a full-size motor attached to it. As I was walking around the bay learning about the equipment, a medical call came in and my crew ran out and said, "That's us, let's go!"

I was so excited. Of course, I wanted to have a fire run (sorry, chief), but any call would satisfy my thrill-seeking day. We hopped in the rescue truck, buckled up, lit 'em up and honked our way through intersections on Center Street. To communicate with each other amidst the loud sirens, there are headsets. We all put those on and it was clear as day to talk and hear. A GPS system on a tablet-like screen sits in front of the passenger seat and will direct them to the exact location they're headed. While that is used, and useful, it's safe to say these firemen have directions down like the back of their hands.

The emergency was a medical call, and the woman ended up being taken by ambulance to the hospital and was fine. It was interesting how these firemen I was with, instead of putting on fire gear, put on Laytex gloves and was prepared to bring out their medical bags. They are fully trained medics. And, they respond to more medical calls than fires nowadays. Why?

Martin told me a few examples. Less fires can be attributed to better electrical wiring and better technology. But it is firemen who respond to any accident, any medical call, and any fire. That's because they're fast. They're so fast, their sense of urgency is so high, more often than not they're the first first responder on the scene. They beat the ambulances, they beat the police, and they are equipped to begin helping immediately even if that means starting an IV.

I learned that there is something called "the golden hour." Engler told me that's the amount of time you have to get a hurt person to the hospital. I commented that an hour seems like a long time, to which he replied, "It's short."

After the medical call, it was time for lunch. I was looking very forward to lunch, because I think it's generally known that besides being tough, firemen are good in the kitchen. On the menu was chicken fettuccine alfredo, per the request of Drobitsch.

The lunch around the table was where you got the most core sense of family these guys feel between each other. (That sense was picked up throughout the morning, whether getting gas in the truck and all getting out or walking as a pack through Owen's). Bolinger told me sitting around that table was his favorite part of the job. The guys, the relationships. He's been with the department almost 20 years.

These guys are family, because they live there. They work 24 hours and then are off for two days and back on for 24 hours. They have beds and laundry machines and of course, kitchens. They have work out areas and a basketball hoop and a TV with recliners.

But take a minute to think about working 24 hours. You don't leave. You aren't out running errands, you aren't going home for your lunch hour. If you get a call, you drop your fork during lunch and start running to the truck. If you're sleeping, you're on the road within one minute. Some of the guys I was with said that's what they like about it. And they all agreed helping people is why they do it.

When I asked Engler if he was afraid of dying from running into a burning building, he told me you have more of a chance of dying crossing the street. He didn't like being called a hero. And I know he will hate this kind of press, but I'm glad I was on C-shift. They've seen terrible things, they've saved countless lives, they've sacrificed their personal lives and their safety, all to help people. Do they get thanked a lot, I wondered, and asked, sure that the answer would be yes. It was disappointing to hear them say, "Not really." It wasn't disappointing to them, though. These guys aren't out here doing this for recognition or to get rich. They do it because they are genuinely good people who want to help.

Said Chief Mike Wilson, gesturing above his head, "All my guys have morals up to here, and all of my guys care about this community."