SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
When I first became a volunteer firefighter way back in 1980, a few things quickly became clear.
One is that firefighters are crazy. Remember that old sign, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here – but it helps”? Well, if you stick around as a firefighter for more than a few years, as a volunteer or career member, you do have to be crazy.
There were a few others things I learned: Eat fast; take a bathroom break whenever you can whether you need to or not; back your car into your driveway; always have your clothes ready and an extra pair of socks laid out … and keep your life insurance up to date, just in case.
Another thing I learned is that when you jump out of that truck at a fire, if you want to be on the nozzle you’d better hustle: If you don’t Phil Jacob will be there, and you’ll end up watching him dash into the building with it.
I did want to be on that nozzle. Not because of the challenge or danger, but because, ironically, I’ve never been colder in my life than at some of the fire scenes I’ve responded to. By being at the front of the first hoseline in, I could be the guy on the fireground closest to the flames.
Sometimes, when the temperature reached the minus category, I had to think to myself: “Do I really want to douse this fire? It just seems like folly.” But I did, because if I didn’t Phil Jacob would be right on my behind, ready to put it out through sheer force of will. The fire, not my behind.
Eventually I determined that if I really wanted to see myself as a success and make my mark as a firefighter, I had to do the impossible: outlast Phil Jacob as a volunteer.
Yeah. That’s not gonna happen. He’s still going strong after 43 years, and in my 30th year I’m fading fast. Maybe it helps that he works for a living, while I sit at a keyboard.
I’ve written about Phil before, and here we are again for two reasons: First, it’s getting to be Fire Prevention Week, and around this area fire prevention and Phil are synonymous.
Second, a few weeks ago Phil received a well deserved honor: He was selected to be Firefighter of the Year by the 6th District of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association.
Phil’s not going to tell you about this, because that’s just not who he is, so I will.
Actually, I just did.
Am I jealous of Phil? No, and that’s actually one of the reasons why he’s so great. You see, as often as Phil and I battled to be on the point as the first guy in, Phil understand something very basic and profound: The best way to fight a fire is to keep it from starting to begin with.
As much as we all realize that, most firefighters take that job because of the challenge and thrill of actually going in there, to take on the challenges of an emergency head-on. Phil loves firefighting; you can see it in his eyes. But he also understands that uncontrolled fires are a horrible thing, and he fights constantly to keep from being called to another one.
In 2009 3,010 civilians were killed by fire, just here in America. 17,050 more were hurt, and 90 firefighters killed. Fire killed more Americans than all those other oft-reported natural disasters combined.
There were 1.3 million fires reported in 2009, with a direct property loss of $12.5 billion. Even a Congressman couldn’t throw away that much money. (I kid – of course a Congressman could.)
So Phil, part of a firefighting family that includes his father and three sons, took up the challenge that to many firefighters is only of secondary interest: fire prevention. It’s directly through his efforts that we have a fire safety trailer here in Albion, and he works hard for school safety and programs such as Operation Lifesaver.
As I’ve said before and will continue to say, Phil Jacob has saved more lives, stopped more injuries, and prevented more loss of property and jobs than any other firefighter in Noble County – maybe more than any firefighter in the State of Indiana. Yes, he works that hard. Plus, he’s pretty darn good at putting out fires.
Eh – maybe I am a little jealous. But you know what? Any time I sleep through a wind-blown blizzard in the midst of January, or don’t have to leave the air conditioning to tackle a barn fire when both the temperature and the humidity hit the 90’s, I’m pretty darn thankful. Thanks to Phil, some kid didn’t play with matches; somebody recognized a fire hazard and did something about it; someone knew what to do when disaster loomed, and their actions kept it from being as serious as it could be.
All because of Phil Jacob.
That’s a pretty darn good way to lead your life. So, the next time you see Phil, pat him on the back. Shake his hand. And tell him to let me have the nozzle every once in awhile.
This photo at a fire in Albion was taken, I believe, by Terrie Beckley. (I apologize if I'm wrong.) Phil isn't wearing gear because the fire broke out only a block from the Noble County Courthouse, where he works, so he headed straight for the scene. That's me on the left, stretching a line toward the rear to help protect the large house to the left; Phil is getting another line ready while the rest of the crew gears up. A short time after this photo was taken, the house started shooting at us. (Seriously -- ammunition cooking off.)