Six firefighters discuss how the military prepared them well for a career in fire service

For Veterans Day 2023, several Hillsborough County firefighters share their insights on their careers. Some of these answers were gathered in a roundtable format while others were collected via email.

The veterans participating in the roundtable conversation include:

  • Marlene B. Craig, Battalion Chief 8A, Retired U.S. Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant

  • Mario L. Pitts, Sr., Captain, Station 17, Sergeant Major (E-9), U.S. Army Reserve

  • Christopher S. Tallent, Captain, Station 32/B, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army

  • Conner VanAtter, Fire Medic, Station 24B, Specialist, U.S. Army, Military Police Officer

  • Sean VanAtter, Captain, Station 14/A, U.S. Air Force, Technical Sergeant, Combat Arms Instructor

  • Ryan VanBuskirk, Fire Medic, Station 10/A, U.S. Air Force, Captain

In what ways is your firefighting career an extension of how you were serving your country?

Craig: "One of the reasons I joined the military was the desire to serve my country. The fire service was a way for me to continue to serve the community after my military service ended."

VanBuskirk: "Veterans understand this level of service and commitment very well and is one of the many reasons the Fire Service is a great fit for veterans."

Connor VanAtter: "I'm proud to be a Fire Medic. It's not something that most people get to do in multiple environments like we have."

Pitts: "I feel many veterans are driven by a strong sense of duty and service to their country and community."

VanBuskirk: "When I initially got out of the military, I struggled to find significance doing mundane tasks and found connections with co-workers to often remain superficial. Being part of the Fire Service has allowed me to re-connect with like-minded people that are willing to go to extreme lengths to help other people. I have found there is a great bond formed with people that are willing to put themselves in danger, both for the team, and the community we serve."

In what ways do you think veterans have an advantage coming into a fire rescue job with military experience behind them?

Sean VanAtter: "It starts with confidence. There is no task too small for a veteran, and a lot of new hires can at times think that some tasks are beneath them."

Craig: "[Both] as a student athlete in high school and in the military, being part of a team was engrained in me at a very young age."

Tallent: "[The] ability to help form a cohesive team as a member within a chain of command is huge, [and] their ability to thrive with individuals from different cultures, communities, and religions is without equal."

Pitts: "Veterans understand the importance of working together as a cohesive unit. Many military roles require close collaboration and trust among team members, which translates seamlessly into the teamwork required in a fire department. The military's strict hierarchical structure and the emphasis on accountability and teamwork instill in veterans a deep appreciation for the chain of command. This is especially relevant in firefighting, where the ability to work harmoniously within a structured framework is vital for the safety and effectiveness of the team."

How did your military service prepare you for the kind of physical demands of a career in fire rescue?

VanBuskirk: "While in their respective services, most members of the military … had jobs requiring a decent level of physical fitness. That demand for physical fitness carries over with us when we leave the military and is a vital component of the Fire Service. The Fire Service is often not very physically demanding … until it is. Physical fitness needs to be able to meet the demand of the situation when the nature of the call requires it."

Tallent: "[Veterans] also know how to push themselves physically to accomplish their mission. Furthermore, they realize how important physical readiness is in our profession and keep themselves ready for the challenges they may encounter."

Firefighters make tough decisions in the field. How did military experience help to prepare you for the intensity of this job?

Tallent: "[Getting back to] physical fitness plays an important role in managing the day-day stress of running complicated calls and managing the occasional shift, which requires us to operate on minimal sleep."

Connor VanAtter: "I have an example of a call I ran with another military veteran not too long ago. It was a difficult cardiac arrest patient. I was working the call with another military veteran and I could just feel that trust in each other to get the job done right. We got the patient's pulse back in the [ambulance] and I really feel like our military experience helped to lower the stress of the job in that instance so we could help that resident."

There's something about taking off a uniform that has the name of your country on it and putting on a uniform that has the name of your community on it, right?

Connor VanAtter: "Exactly. Who do I represent here? The uniform is something to be proud of."

Sean VanAtter: "There's a lot of pride in this work. It helps reinforce that failure is not an option."

Posted: 11/8/2023, 4:06:57 PM