Stranger 44, Day 44 - Meet Patrick

Stranger 44, Day 44 – Meet Patrick, the “Firefighting ‘Regular Guy'”

So I actually struck out today… well, kind of. I asked three Strangers to which the first one gave me a hidden “go away” message, and the other two were not inclined to take the photo. Not going to lie, I wasn’t really feeling like talking to someone today, either, so being shut down three times in a row (hadn’t happened before) was a real bummer. I really thought this was the day that I would give myself a mulligan and just take the day off. I was tired. I wasn’t feeling “open” and “vulnerable”, and I was rejected. Thrice.

I wanted to go to my car and just sit there and maybe even nap before my yoga class at 3PM — that would give me an hour to be on my own. However, I remembered that on my way to the yoga studio there’s a fire station. For whatever reason, I’ve always thought it’d be fun to just stop in to the fire station and talk to the firemen. Perhaps it’s some of the early kid feeling of seeing the Big Red Engines. So, I parked my car near the studio, and sauntered over to the fire station… confident I wouldn’t be shut down a fourth time today.

A couple of the engines just arrived at the station coming back from… something. So as I walked up, I got to meet the driver of the larger rig, and happily, he accepted to be Stranger 44.

Meet Patrick, 39

Who are you?

“Father. Husband. Christian. Fireman. Just your average guy.” I feel he’s anything but average as a fireman.

How’d you become a fireman?

“It’s actually a funny story. I was in construction, and my dad was always telling me — he had a couple buddies who were firemen — ‘you need to go to the fire station to get a job’, and he said, ‘because then you could get benefits, and then you could still have your days doing construction.'”

“I was like, ‘yeah, whatever.’ You know how it is listening to your dad,” he tells me. He was about 24-25 when he did this.

“Ended up getting into wakeboarding because I had plenty of time. Met a guy who worked here, and he talked me into filling out an application, and I got hired here. About the time I came out of the academy, he left and went to Atlanta. I’ve been here ever since. That was 12 years ago.”

I told him that signing up as a fireman probably took more than just “randomly signing up”.

“Honestly, I never dreamed I was going to be hired. It was just kind of… throw it out there and see what happens. A buddy of mine who worked at a different station… he said it better than anyone I’ve ever heard, ‘you’ll know within your first 1-2 fires if it’s in you or not’. I think my first training fire, I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m all in.'” Patrick tells me the Stations he’s been at before his current station.

“I can drive anything in the county.” He points to the rigs around me including the big one that needs another steerer on the back. “It’s pretty fun.”

What are your passions? Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“Right now, I have a 6-year-old at home. That’s pretty much everything.”

“I love hanging out with him and my wife. Still like going to the lake — just don’t get to do it as much as I used to,” Patrick shares. “I don’t really know if I have a Dream so to say. You could say I’m livin’ the Dream. I work for 24 hours on, off for 48. Gives me plenty of time to do what I want. Within reason, anything I can afford that I want… that’s the one downside to this. It is what it is. Nobody becomes a fireman to become rich… at least monetarily rich. We’re rich in different ways.”

What is that way for you?

“I’ve got a much larger friends than most people do. Because of the guys here. It’s a completely different atmosphere than anywhere else you could work. It really is a family because you have to depend on everyone to do their jobs so everyone can go home. If one person doesn’t do their job, everybody might not go home.”

What is a lesson you’ve learned over the years being a fireman?

“It all kind of goes back to that whole ‘husband, father, Christian, all around regular guy’… just treat others the way you want to be treated. I think if everybody in the country would treat everybody they came in contact with the way they want to be treated, the world would be a lot better place. At least, that’s always what we’ve been taught. Now, I firmly believe that. There’s too many people who take crap from everybody too often because everybody’s out for number 1. Here. That’s everywhere I’ve been. Everyone’s out for themselves.”

In a lot of ways, Patrick and his fellow “family members” are not looking out for themselves. Instead, they’re out there fighting fires, and looking out for others.

What’s it feel like to rescue someone?

“I’ve only done it once.”

What was that like?

“It was very surreal, and it wasn’t but a month ago.”

“It’s still hasn’t completely sunk in everything that happened. It’s still kind of hard to go back and explain how it feels. It was a very proud moment once I sat down… probably 2-3 days later when it actually hit what had actually happened, that you can actually be proud, I guess.”

Could you share a little bit of it? What happened? What you did?

He starts out telling me about some buildings nearby. “We went over there on a medical alarm. I was driving the engine. Went over there for the medical alarm. We’ve been over there multiple times for medical alarms that turned out to be food on the stove. 99 times out of 100, food on the stove ain’t a big deal. Just smoke in the apartment, no big deal.”

“This time, we showed up… everything about the call was strange. Pull up and there were two maintenance guys standing out front. Maintenance is never there. So we talk to them, and they said, ‘we’ve got alarms on four floors. I’ve already checked 212. Everything’s fine there. Everything’s good to go.’ By the time we made our way to 312, came to a woman who said she had food on the stove, that she thinks that’s what caused the alarms. We went inside. They were going to go to the — the guy riding the seat said, ‘we’re going to the 5th floor’. They had the key to that one. Something told me to go check the third floor, and couldn’t find any cause of it. As I was coming out, our ambulance crew showed up and said there was smoke coming out the second floor window. So I came back down… and I met a guy, and his eyes as big as saucers, and he’s like, ‘there’s smoke pouring out of the second floor’. I went right back up to the second floor, and there was smoke… I opened the door to the apartment, and it was probably door knob height,” Patrick used his arm to indicate the height of the smoke.

“So I went in and put the fire out and grabbed him (the victim).” The man was just asleep on the bed with food on the stove. “Except this time the food on the stove. But this time, the food on the stove went to the cabinets, so it was a little bit more involved.” Patrick was referring to the fire as his arms gestured the flames spreading over the cabinets. “Spent 7-8 hours in the hospital after that.”

“Couple days later, it finally hit what had actually happened.” He recalls the moment now. “It was a surreal experience. Something not a lot of people, I don’t think, get the chance to do, much less would do. Kind of one of those things, I go in and put the fire out, or that dude could possibly die.”

The fact that Patrick and his team were very thorough going through floor to floor and room to room… things appeared just fine, but they stuck around still trying to find the cause.

“It’s weird the way everything happened. I can’t even explain how. Like I said, I still run through it in my head over and over and over.”

What your biggest obstacle that has kept you from reaching your goals? (Thanks to Terry, Stranger 43)

I started out asking him about what goal he’s had given his answer to the Dream question earlier. “Not that I can think of right now. I’m pretty happy with the way everything’s going for me right now. I’m doing what I want to do.”

So I change the question slightly… what is a goal you have for your son?

“Grow up and be successful. Same one everyone has.”

“Be him.”

I ask him how Patrick will continue to motivate his son to be himself given all the other noise we come into contact with.

“Good question… Being six, I haven’t had to deal with a whole lot. Probably raise him right. Raise him the way my parents raised me. I think I turned out pretty alright. Just keep him grounded and realistic, but still have him shooting for the stars.”

What is a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is the one thing in life you had a chance that you didn’t do that you regret?”

He shares with me how at times, he wishes he finished college. However, his current career does not require the degree — “pretty happy with where I’m at.” If he did go back to get the degree, he’d do it for himself.

After the handshake.

Ahh, that’s a good feeling to continue this journey and streak of 44 Strangers. Still 56 to go. However, what a really great feeling to meet one of the fireman. Patrick was a real nice guy, and just as he said to the first question, he was like a “regular guy”. He’s down to earth and… nice. What more could you ask for from a Stranger?

Patrick is doing what he loves with the people he loves and trusts. Further, being a father and husband is absolutely paramount for him. What’s great for his son is that Patrick is a hero… he is as a father, and he is as a community member (as a fireman).

Maybe you can go out and meet your local fireman?

If not, hope you meet Patrick. No longer a Stranger.