Editor’s note: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk in another person’s shoes? The Daily Press presents a series of interviews with local workers to find out what their typical day is like, from a bus driver to a short-order cook, fireman to taxi driver.
CITY YARDS — Dense gray clouds of smoke billowed out of the door as the firefighters rushed toward the flames. Equipped with an ax and a hose, the men approached the door cautiously, waiting for the signal to enter.
They pried open the door, and immediately the blaze was upon them. Quickly and efficiently, they put out the potentially disastrous conflagration. When it was over they smiled with the satisfaction of knowing that another training exercise went off without a hitch.
Among the firefighters was Patrick Nulty, a 28-year-old Santa Monica native whose passion for public safety can be traced back to frequent visits with his uncle, a Santa Monica firefighter. It was during those visits that Nulty realized he would, “do anything to get that job.”
“Obviously, it was the coolest thing I’d seen in my life,” Nulty said.
While attending Santa Monica High School, Nulty, already enthusiastic about the fire service, took classes to become an Emergency Medical Technician and joined the L.A. County Explorer Youth Program. At both Santa Monica and Oxnard colleges he majored in fire technology. Once he finished school, Nulty worked as a technician in the emergency room at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Nulty’s career and educational endeavors have all suited his childhood dream to be a firefighter. After two years as a firefighter in Los Angeles, Nulty joined the SMFD. Three years later, he has decided to go on to paramedic school where he will learn skills to provide greater patient care and progress as a firefighter.
“A lot of calls we go on are really injured people or really sick people,” Nulty said. “There’s only limited stuff I can do. Being a paramedic you are open to a whole other realm of patient care.”
In Santa Monica, all firefighters are EMTs, however, not all are paramedics. Paramedics have the training and knowledge to provide life-saving measures, which include IV administration. According to Capt. Mike Lavoi of Engine 123, nearly 80 percent of calls in Santa Monica are medical. Therefore, it is helpful for firefighters to supplement their education with paramedic training, which the fire department sponsors.
On a recent Friday morning, Station no. 3 was filled with the B shift of Engines 123 and 124. The firefighters were beginning their morning line-up at 8:30 a.m. following their hour workout.
Upon watching the morning meeting, one is struck by the camaraderie of the men, all of whom have worked together for years. Despite their differing seniority or assignment to different engines, each offered to help when needed.
Among them is Nulty, who, as a one of the younger members of the group, takes it upon himself to clean the kitchen and empty the dishwasher. When asked about his relationship with the other firemen, Nulty said, “It’s a second family. It’s like a fraternity, but not a messy one with a bunch of drunk idiot kids.”
After the morning meeting, Engines 123 and 124 set out to the practice area for a pump test and training. While the engineers tested the pumping mechanisms of Engine 124, the others put out simulated fires and saved potential victims.
Over the course of the day, Engine 123 answered three real calls — all medical in nature. When arriving at the site of each emergency, Nulty always took the lead, examining the patient, checking blood pressure, heart beat and pulse. Each of the patients required transportation to the emergency room, however, none of them were seriously sick or injured.
Firefighters provide aid in a variety of situations, which range from dangerous fires such as those in Yorba Linda and Montecito, to mundane medical conditions. Most of their days proceed slowly — cleaning the station, training, and answering medical calls. Occasionally, their support extends to the ridiculous. Once Engine 123 was sent to help someone turn off their sprinklers; it was not an incident they had trained for.
While their days may sometimes be considered repetitious or perhaps absurd, the firefighters agree that each appeal for their assistance is “just another opportunity to help someone.”
Despite the knowledge that the daily grind of a firefighter is not always exciting, Nulty reflects on his work combating fires with earnestness.
“After the fact, its like, that’s some pretty cool stuff we did,” he said.
From the look on his face it is obvious that the dreary routine does nothing to dull the excitment of fighting a fire.