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52 Godly Men : Men of Today Teaching the Men of Tomorrow » My Journey » Week 44: Quick! What’s The Number For Nine-One-One?

Week 44: Quick! What’s The Number For Nine-One-One?

Have you ever had an emergency happen in your family? If not, you’re very blessed. But if you have, then you most likely called…that’s right, 9-1-1. It’s probably the most well known telephone number in the United States, and for good reason. Every day, someone runs into a major dilemma that requires assistance, and they call for help. But did you ever wonder what happens after you make your call and are busy getting out of the burning house/fending off the howitzer-wielding-burglar? Today, I learned the answer to that question, and a whole lot more besides. Because today, I accompanied Cleveland Fire Chief Chuck Atchley and learned about the job of the midnight cowboy extraordinaire, the fearless firefighter.

We hit it off right from the beginning, especially since the first thing we did together was to have lunch (a big part of my day). While we consumed our food, we chatted. I learned that Chuck has been married for twenty-eight years, and has two boys: 25 and 23 years old. He has been the fire chief for almost five years (February 7 is his 5-year anniversary), and has been a regular firefighter for thirty. He started at the bottom of the ladder, and worked his way up to a lieutenant position. Then, the chief at that time retired, and the spot opened. However, Chuck’s brother got the job, because he was the deputy chief. But after a six-month trial, he stepped down and, after turning in his application, Chuck inherited the job. He says that it’s been fun being chief, although he doesn’t go on any of the runs anymore. He does have a greater appreciation for holidays and weekends, since when he was a normal firefighter he worked 24-48 shifts (one day on, two days off), and things like weekends don’t matter.

The 911 CenterWe had finished eating by now, and instead of going back to the station, Chief Atchley dropped by the 911 center in Cleveland, to show me what they do there. The 911 center is where your calls are taken when you dial 911 in a state of emergency. After saying hi to the receptionist, the first thing we saw was a large room with computers and TVs everywhere. People were busy taking calls, radioing in reports, and stuff like that. What would happen is a person would receive an emergency call, and then they would contact by radio the station required. For instance, if a person called complaining about a stray dog in their yard, the worker would get in touch via the radio with the animal patrol. We walked in on a quiet part of the day, so Chuck took the time to introduce me to the head honcho, Mr. Joe, who showed me the rest of the center. We dropped in on the server rooms, the intern room, and several other places that were pretty captivating. When he had shown me everything, Chief Atchley and I said our goodbyes and left.

Me With The MayorNext stop, fire station four. It was Chuck’s first station, where he started 30 years ago. He thinks it’s over 100 years old, so it’s been around a while. He told me a bit about the station, and then we left there as well. The last place we visited was the mayor’s office, because Chief Atchley wanted to show me what city government is like for an elected official. He introduced me to the mayor of Cleveland, Tom Rowland, and asked him to tell me a bit about what his job is like. He had an entire wall covered with pictures of him with former presidents, and he gave me a good thirty minutes of his time telling stories about the photos and explaining what his job is like and what he does a lot of the time. It was intriguing, all of the different things that go into making our city government efficient.

Well, Chuck and I finally left the mayor’s office and headed back to fire station 1, where he works. Once there, he showed me what the inside of a firehouse really looks like. It wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, like the whole sliding down the pole thing, but it was still cool. They had a kitchen, offices, a hall of dorm rooms, and then of course, the vehicle bay. As the #1 station, it had the largest number of fire trucks (about five), and it was the biggest. It also had really nice people in it too. I happened to make an observation that it seemed like everyone who worked there was tall, good-looking, and ripped, and Chuck agreed. He said that it wouldn’t have been the same back in his day, but they have been putting a huge stress on fitness lately (about fifty firefighters die each year, and half of their deaths are from heart attacks; ergo, they were likely overweight), and so now you have guys that have the fit frame they need for this type of work. I asked Chief Atchley if firefighting takes its toll on your body, and he said yes, it definitely does. With all of the running up steps, dragging hoses, breathing in smoke and junk, etc., your body kind of starts to wear down. A lot. But for Chuck, having a beat-up and worn-out body is worth it, because of everything he’s been able to do for the people in his community. Now that he’s the fire chief, his job requires more paperwork, and less firefighting skills, than before, so his body doesn’t have to always be exerting itself 24/7.

Another thing that firefighters have to encounter is the multiple number of dangers that facet the job. For instance: right before I showed up, the guys at the station had to rescue a burning trailer from destruction. The danger of smoke inhalation and getting burnt was obvious. But one thing that they found out in the middle of the operation was that the man living in the trailer owned a few guns, and as a result had a couple thousand rounds of ammunition sitting in his bedroom. That was a potentially lethal danger to the men that they didn’t know about. But that’s part of the fun of being a firefighter, I guess. As one of Chief Atchley’s friends once told him, “Even the dumbest animal in the world runs from a fire. You guys run to it.” But there isn’t a feeling in the world that’s better than when you save someone or something very important in a person’s life.

Chuck AtchleyOur time together finally expired, though, like a brush fire with nothing to feed on. Chuck dropped me off at my house, and we were done. I didn’t get to go on any emergency calls, but I learned so much, I don’t really care. I found out what a fireman’s life is like, from the best sunshine to the worst thunderstorms. I learned what goes on unnoticed when you give a cry for help. And I discovered along the way why firefighters here in this town do what they do. It’s for the relationships and the friends they make, and for the joy of helping someone in need. Yep, no matter what anyone says, a Cleveland fireman is one of the bravest, most dedicated men ever to walk the face of the earth. Just remember that next time you dial 911.

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