Greenwood's firefighters call it the best job in the world
By: Damian Dominguez
October 18, 2018
Beside rows of neatly made beds and the top of the brass pole descending down to the first floor, Greenwood’s firefighters in B Shift slipped their hands into puppets and sang along with the music.
On Monday morning, the firefighters at Station No. 1 at 900 Main St. S. treated a tour group of young children to a puppet show, complete with songs teaching them the basics of fire safety. The station has hosted open houses in conjunction with a recruitment push trying to hire more firefighters into their brotherhood.
Many children go through a phase of obsessing over firefighters and the enormous, red fire engines — but some people never grow out of it.
“I’ve always had a fascination with it,” said Franklin Cloninger. “I used to get my parents to stop at every fire station along the way whenever we’d drive somewhere.”
It felt like he was always meant to be a firefighter. He started in a junior firefighters program as soon as he could, and began volunteering as soon as he turned 16. The more he learned and experienced, the more he felt the urge to dive deeper and become more involved, he said.
For others, the urge to join is built into their family’s history. John Lee Rushton grew up living about a mile from a volunteer fire station and his dad started volunteering there when Rushton was only 3 or 4 years old.
“I practically cut my teeth on some of those old trucks,” he said. “When I was little I didn’t want to be running around, I wanted to sit and watch the guys training.”
Fellow firefighter Aaron Walker also grew up watching his dad volunteer with the county’s fire service, and once he was 16 his dad got him involved. Others, such as Wayman Coleman, weren’t drawn in early on but took to the service later on because of the lifestyle.
Coleman had a cousin, Howard Gray, who pushed him to volunteer, but Coleman went to college and studied industrial engineering — a field he worked in for six years before turning to the fire service. Once he was in, the late Promised Land Fire Chief Ben Terry served as a mentor to guide him through training.
“I really needed the freedom to be outdoors,” Coleman said. “Also, we do get more time, I feel, to spend with our families.”
The job comes with a bevy of perks inherent to the work. Firefighters are constantly learning new things and being given additional training that keeps them sharp and aware of any advances in building codes, construction materials and firefighting techniques. They also get to work out for free during their downtime, a benefit the guys at station one make frequent use of.
There’s a sense of access that comes with being a firefighter. When caution tape keeps others out, firefighters are rushing in. They get to witness and be a part of things most people will never see in their lives.
On the other hand, fighting fires comes with risks, and not all calls end in heroics.
“Some of the calls we run, we see things normal people don’t have to face,” Walker said. “Then you’ve also got the good calls where you can save someone’s life or help someone save their belongings.”
Besides fighting fires, they help run medical calls, respond to traffic wrecks and answer any of a variety of calls made to 911. Some shifts might be mostly quiet, while others have firefighters running calls all day and night. It requires that they have utter faith in one another, along with the working relationship to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, Coleman said.
“You don’t get into the fire service to get rich,” he said. “It has to be something that you love to do, and if it fits something that you love to do, the good outweighs the cons every day.”
Together, the crew has grown so close that they can talk to each other about anything. They help one another with yard work; celebrate birthdays and weddings, anniversaries and baby showers together. It’s one of the few jobs that turns people into real-life superheroes, Cloninger said.
“There are people who would give their life’s savings to be a career firefighter,” he said. “We get to come in here, put on the uniform and do the best profession ever made.”
The job is perfect for athletes and people who work well in a team, he said. For anyone interested in learning more about working as a firefighter, they can call the station at 864-942-8452, but the firefighters at the station Monday said the best thing to do is just step into any open fire station.
“If you show up to my department interested in being a firefighter, you’ve already done the first step,” said firefighter Chad Israel. “Stepping forward like that shows you’re already dedicated to learning more.”