Born with the fire
When children are asked what they plan to be when they grow up, the answer is often, “Superman,” or, “a firefighter.” Of the two, a firefighter is probably the more realistic career option, but only a brave few follow through. One of these few is Tommy Gallant, a live-in student firefighter/EMT at the Camp Ellis Fire Station in Saco.
Gallant is a sophomore at Southern Maine Community College, studying in the fire science program. The student live-in program is a popular program through SMCC. When Gallant was told it would help him in the future and to get his foot in the door, he jumped at the opportunity.
Most college students spend their time in a cramped dorm with a bulletin board of student activities outside the door. Outside Gallant’s room is a giant fire truck, Camp Ellis’ Engine Four.
“The good thing about being here is that a lot of it follows my course study so a lot of it I can apply and I can study while I’m doing it,” Gallant said.
Living and working at the station has a series of added responsibilities compared to living at home. Gallant and the others at the station are in charge of maintenance of the station, the truck and the two trailers. They are also responsible for responding to any emergency calls from Saco and the Camp Ellis area. Engine Four has a response time of approximately five minutes within Camp Ellis, and five to 10 minutes outside the district.
“We do everything. We do any sort of fire investigation, medical calls, anything that happens in the water, so that if someone were to fall off the jetty, we would be there. River calls, smoke alarms, pretty much anything you would call 911 for, our truck will be on the road for.”
Gallant had his career picked out for himself since he was young. Firefighting runs in his family, as his uncle was a captain for Saco Fire Department for more than 20 years.
“I grew up around him; I grew up around the city of Saco’s Fire Department,” Gallant said. “I always knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Gallant graduated from the fire academy in June 2013 and has his basic certification for firefighting. Gallant will begin working toward his intermediate certification in January 2014.
A firefighter works with his heart and soul to protect their community.
“I think my favorite part is the tradition behind it,” Gallant said. “Everyone who’s a part of it is in it because they love it. It’s something people are born with. People who are in here and do this job do it because they are born with the fire. I love always knowing that firefighting has deep, deep roots.”
This passion is necessary in a job that is often ranked one of the most dangerous occupations. Not only is firefighting high risk, but high stress.
“If you have a call that goes bad you have to be automatically ready, back in the right state of mind to go at it again. The public has eyes on us all the time. They’re always looking at us to be a positive example and show leadership. We always need to be all smiles and polite, no matter what the circumstance. The hardest part is being able to snap around, be able to get out of whatever mood you’re in and be all business, all the time.”
Even with strains of the job, Gallant would never turn his back on firefighting.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Gallant said. “It really is. It’s the greatest feeling, just being a part of this. If there’s a house that burns to the ground and all you can save of it is that family’s picture, it’s going to make their day. A huge part of it is being able to do that little bit to make their day better. They’re calling you because something’s gone wrong, and you have the opportunity to make it better for them.”
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