GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. The proverbial cat didn't get rescued from a tree, but the firefighters of Station No. 11 did respond to a fuel spill, suicide attempt and bogus medical call.
On Wednesday, I got to experience something many kids, and probably adults, wish they could do. Hang out with firefighters. Ride in a firetruck with sirens and horns blazing.
It's easy to take firefighters for granted, and in the case of the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services, that would be a squad of 725 men and women. You don't think about the profession's dangers until something horrific happens, like the recent deaths of nine firefighters in Charleston, S.C.
"What it does is heighten your awareness that it can happen anywhere," said Capt. Wayne Mooney, a 20-year veteran who took his dad's advice and entered a career that makes him happy.
In its 36-year history, the county department has experienced three losses, two in the line of duty.
- James D. Cox died in 1981 after a heart attack while jogging around Station No. 8 in Grayson during physical training.
- Lt. Bobby Patrick of Station No. 3 in Mountain Park collapsed and died from a heart attack in 2003 while battling a blaze in a motorcycle repair shop in Lilburn.
- Brant Chesney, a Gwinnett firefighter who also served as a volunteer firefighter and training instructor in Forsyth County, died in 1996 fighting an apartment fire in that county. He worked at Station No. 9 in Lawrenceville.
Station No. 11 in Norcross responded to no fires during Wednesday's Badie Tour. The first call was for a gas spill on the southbound entry ramp of I-85, near Indian Trail Lilburn Road. Firefighters Jordan Keough, Ty Suber and Marino Favre helped the hazardous materials response team --- also part of the fire and emergency services department --- spread absorbent material.
Then, we were on our way. To Kroger.
The men, who work a 24-hour-on-48-hour-off shift, needed chow for dinner. Each man typically chips in $7 for the day's lunch and dinner. There are usually six firefighters, two paramedics and a battalion chief on duty at all times. Because some of the staff was off Wednesday, dinner is the only concern. Last night, they were to have a chicken-and-cheese dish that firefighter and paramedic Phil Merck jokingly calls "Norcross cheesy chicken."
After Kroger, we stopped by Chick-fil-A for lunch. I assume we'll sit and dine. No dice. Calls from dispatch are imminent, they explain, so the men eat at the station off Live Oak Parkway.
After lunch, Merck gave me a tour of the station --- the bunks, kitchen, common area, offices and exercise room. His radio cackled, something about a suicide attempt at a residence near the corner of Steve Reynolds Boulevard and Hillcrest Court.
We're off. Sirens singing. Horns honking. The patient gets hauled away by ambulance.
We returned to the station. Keough apologized for the day's lack of excitement. He's dead serious, but before I can reply, we're back in the truck. This time, dispatch said it was a medical call for a residence off Silver Lake Drive. See firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics handle a little bit of everything. Station No. 11 expects to field about 40,000 calls this year.
No one answered the door of the well-kept home. Keough, Suber and Favre looked for ways to get inside. They busted open a drop box that had a key. No one was home. A neighbor spotted us and called the owner of the abode. He gave the cellphone to Favre, who explained what had transpired. The owner isn't upset.
Obviously, he understands.
Had this been a real emergency, the crew of Station No. 11 would have been just as determined to get in, to reach him or his pets, to protect and serve.