Imagine settling into bed after a hard day’s work, hoping to catch some sleep, when the ear-splitting tone from 911 dispatch tears through the fire hall, blaring out the address of a structure fire.
This is the reality for Rome-Floyd County firefighters.
“There’s really no such thing as a deep sleep,” Sgt. Tim Causby said. “If you’re going to a fire, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re in it.”
It’s a matter of dealing with extremes, where firefighters could go from eating a homemade meal or watching a movie to breaking down a door and attacking a fire.
For the firefighters of Station 1’s C shift, working 24 hours straight means the fire hall at 617 W. First St. acts as a second home.
“One-third of our life is spent here,” Battalion Chief Greg Abbott said.
What many people fail to realize, Abbott continued, is firefighters work a formal job like any other workers, except after 5 p.m. they keep working.
When not responding to calls, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. firefighters could be training, flushing hydrants, giving educational lectures or maintaining their equipment.
After 5 p.m., when regular workers are going home for the night, firefighters stay on duty but are given time for themselves.
“Pretty much free time, just have to be ready to respond,” Capt. Steve Bailey said.
Downtime could mean anything from watching movies to working out or having discussions to studying.
Abbott said some guys kick back in recliners and watch movies to pass the time, which makes it difficult to find a movie they haven’t seen when they return home.
“Their family says ‘hey let’s watch this movie’ and they’ll respond ‘I done seen it,’” Abbott said.
For the most part, firefighters do what they would do at home at the fire hall.
“Much of our free time is spent trying to make it a home,” Bailey said. “We’re a pretty close-knit group.”
For firefighter Landon Tibbitts, that means cooking up a meal.
Bailey called Tibbitts the resident cook.
And the cook doesn’t do the dishes, Causby added.
In between calls and joking remarks to shave his head, dish duty often falls on the shoulders of rookie firefighter Tye Sims.
Fellow firefighter Alex Routt said wanting Sims to get a haircut is “not a hazing thing” but a demand based on “stylistic preferences.”
Sims is still on a probationary period where he is building experience and knowledge from a basic education gained from rookie cadet school.
“We harass him about everything,” Bailey said with a smile.
Sims doesn’t mind, though. “It’s the best job in the world,” he said.
It isn’t so much heckling Sims, but rather seeing what type of person he is, Bailey added.
Getting to know one another is integral to building camaraderie among firefighters, who may have to put their lives in each other’s hands.
“You depend on each other to get you out of trouble,” Bailey said.
Tales of fires fought or dispatches answered also flow through the fire hall, and for young firefighters, it’s the best time to listen in.
“We share a lot of war stories,” Bailey said. “A lot of the time it’s where you get the best education.”
However, some discussions stray from firefighting to politics or sports, Bailey said.
“There are a lot of different viewpoints,” he said. “It can get a little rowdy.”
Looking back on the birthdays or family cookouts missed, Bailey reflected “it can be tough,” but “this is our home away from home.”
Firefighters were sitting down for a low-country boil lunch Tibbitts had prepared on Tuesday, when the dispatch tone went off.
Throwing down their silverware and napkins, they rushed from their seats at the table to seats on the fire truck.
“I had one bite and had to go out again,” Tibbitts said. “A lot of firemen eat fast.”