Station Pride Articles

My Black Helmet

As a young child in a small town, I grew up as the son of a paramedic, the grandson of a firefighter, and the great-grandson of a large town career fireman. I was raised watching my family, including my mother as an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse), help people daily. I remember wearing my grandfather’s hip boots, his long coat and an old yellow “salad bowl” helmet. I would run around, kicking in imaginary doors and dragging in the “green line” and fighting the biggest imaginary tree fire you could find in my granddad’s front yard. This happened almost 2-3 times a week if not more.

I used to listen to the scanner in my parent’s living room all hours of the day and most nights. I would listen for my dad’s voice as he arrives on scene and then again giving his radio report of the patient’s condition to the Emergency Room. Sometimes even getting to go on an emergency with him back then was a really big deal. If I was riding with my dad around town, and he’d get dispatched to a call, he would stop so I could get out and get in my mother’s car. We never went anywhere in the same vehicle, so he could speed off to meet the ambulance or go to the EMS station. Back then, that was life, and I never knew any different.

Now, I am a career fireman in a northern Texas town of approximately 12,000 people. My dad is in his 60’s and still hops in and out of an ambulance for a living in a small town in the panhandle of Texas. My grandfather passed away several years ago. I now see that this business or career choice is not just a career or even a calling, it is in my blood.

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In May of 2004, I graduated high school and exactly a week later, I went to work at a hospital in Amarillo, Texas as a security guard. Not having any idea what I wanted to do with my life, I had looked into the police academy and just wasn’t hooked. I worked at that hospital for about 10-11 months when an unimaginable accident happened to a firefighter of the Amarillo Fire Dept. While responding to a run, he was donning his turnout gear in the back of the engine. While rounding a corner, he fell against the door. It opened, and he fell to the street.

He was brought into the ER of the hospital where I was working and was eventually moved to the ICU for quite awhile. I don’t even remember how many days or weeks he spent there. What I do remember is, part of my job at the hospital was to make “rounds” of all the units and floors of the hospital during the 8 hours I worked. During the entire ordeal, I witnessed the strength and bond of the brotherhood of firefighters. I saw these huge, grown, intimidating men weep and console each other. I saw family members being taken care of by fellow firemen. That flicked the light switch, which set my mind free. That summer, I applied and was accepted into the Amarillo College Fire Academy.

A few weeks before the academy started, I talked with an old paramedic friend of my dad’s and went on to join the Randall County Fire/Rescue Dept as a volunteer. Back then, as a probationary firefighter with Randall County, I was issued a baby blue “salad bowl” helmet and told that when I become a rookie, I would receive a yellow salad bowl helmet. I was so excited. I was going to get a lid just like my granddads. Then I learned that I would be voted on by the members of the department and, if voted in, I would receive a black traditional style helmet. My heart skipped. My pride was oozing out of me. From my overly “whacker-ish” fire stickers on the back glass of my truck to the fire service T-shirts that were worn and washed so many times.

By January 2006, I was given that black helmet. I was in heaven. At this point, I was living in the Randall County Fire Dept. dorms. This was part of a program that allowed members going through the academy a place to live, as long as they performed chores and ran calls.

I wore that black helmet to almost every call I ran like I was going to lose it or something. I remember my very first structure fire that I wore that helmet. I packed up, knelt on the porch of a trailer house, prepared myself to make my first interior attack… when one of my biggest mentors in the fire service came walking up the porch. It was as if the house wasn’t on fire, and with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on that guy, as he handed me my helmet. He made some crack about me forgetting my ass if it wasn’t attached.

After graduating the academy, I began the testing process to get hired on in Texas. I discovered quickly that the amount of kids looking for firefighter jobs greatlyimage outweighed the amount of actual jobs available. In July of 2008, I finally received an offer. I was officially a paid firefighter. I was given my first career lid, a yellow “salad bowl” helmet, just like my granddad’s. I remember not being able to sleep my first few shifts because I was begging the fire gods for the fire of a lifetime. I came to work knowing that I might get to grab the nozzle that day. But for the most part, I was met with several EMS calls during each shift. While I am a fireman, I did get hired on at a department that runs the ambulance as well. I am one of the few that enjoys the EMS-side of the job. It’s in my blood.

I honestly cannot remember my first fire while on shift. I cannot remember the first time I got my ol’ yellow lid dirty. That helmet has since been replaced by a couple of black ones. As of today, I am beginning my 8th year at my current dept. I am eligible to be promoted to the next open lieutenant position, but am I ready to change lids? “Man could I really be able to wear a RED helmet properly?”. What comes with that new color? Will I still get the opportunity to get it dirty? Can I handle having guys work under me? Am I ready to be responsible for them and their safety? Can I make sure they go home to their families? In an honest answer as I sit here and type this is, I do not know. I truly do not know. But I do know that I’m ready to try. I’m ready to let my experience, knowledge and my pride in this department help guide myself and my guys to our accomplishments. I only have seven years as a paid man and ten years total time in the fire service. I’ve worried and worked so hard to get that black helmet, but I feel like I am ready for the responsibility. As the quote says, “The greatest thing an old firefighter can teach a young firefighter, is how to become an old firefighter.” I have been mentored and educated by a few old guys that I will never forget, and I feel I owe it to them to try my hand at being an officer.

Feel free to also check out another article similar to this one, titled “It’s In My Blood”:

https://station-pride.com/2015/05/15/its-in-my-blood/

About James Cook (27 Articles)
James's great grandfather was a career Firefighter, his grandfather was a firefighter, making his way to fire chief in his home town and taught at Texas A&M fire school for 50 + years. James’s grandfather on his dad’s side was a naval firefighter in the Navy Seabees, James’s father has been a paramedic since 1979, and his mother’s a nurse also. James himself is a career Captain / EMT-I in northwest Texas, and has been in the fire service since Aug/2005. James loves teaching as much as learning the craft.

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