Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Fighting Fires, Developing Character

Written by Austin Nelson

Over the past eight months, I have been training to obtain my Firefighter 1 certification.

The unique opportunity to become a firefighter became a reality while I was living in New Market, TN. New Market was a community where I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the family that runs the local volunteer fire department. The Solomon family introduced me to the firefighting as a kid when I attended their Saturday dance every weekend and watched older guys going on calls. I soon became best friends with my neighbor, Shayne Coffey, who was the grandson of New Market Volunteer Fire Department’s beloved chief: Frank “Sockey” Solomon.

I decided to become a member of the Junior Firemen program during my junior year of high school. I was recruited by one of my role models and someone who soon became a father figure: Maurice “Moose” Solomon. I quickly moved my way up the ranks from recruit, to captain, to assistant chief of the program.  It was during my time with the Junior Firemen program that my love for firefighting developed. After responding to the largest fire of my life, immediately after responding to a house fire, I knew I wanted this to be a part of my future. I have always wanted to help humanity in a broad perspective, and I discovered that firefighting was my way to do this.

Beginning in the summer of 2017, I started my training to obtain my Firefighter 1 certification and obtain my black helmet, which will allow me to respond to dispatches and don the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Under the mentorship of brothers Adam and David Pittman, I have undergone vehicle extrication, donning PPE and maintenance, ventilation, hoses and pumps, and driving training on various Saturdays. We have also covered these topics in a classroom setting before doing hands-on activities and have trained on other topics such as CPR, communication, and building construction. The purpose of these activities is to better provide myself and other firefighters with skills to help ensure the community of New Market’s safety. Although my training is important, I believe it will be even more beneficial to the community to help train more young men to become firefighters. That is why I spend my Saturdays helping Assistant Chief Maurice Solomon train young men under eighteen.

The act of volunteer firefighting is one that helps enhance not only my college experience but also my life experience. Having training on Tuesdays and Thursdays after classes and not being able to sleep in on Saturdays is sometimes strenuous, but I have learned many lessons in time management. Additionally, I have made many friends who are firefighters in my department and in departments across the state. It is always a warm experience seeing a firefighter flag on the back of a windshield or firefighter tags on a car. Firefighting helps me keep in contact with my community back home while I’m taking difficult college courses.

It also is a way to see differing political views and generational ideologies. I often need to problem solve when I disagree with other students or sometimes firefighters. I move between heavily conservative firefighters and often very liberal college students, and I have learned how to adjust my interactions to ensure productive and intriguing conversations with both. The bonds I have been able to create with some of the younger junior firemen has helped me understand the upcoming generation better and helps me with social interactions I may have in my field of medicine.

Despite the adversity and dedication it takes to become a volunteer firefighter, I am truly fortunate to have received the opportunity to become what I pictured as a hero during my childhood. I believe it is necessary to embody the Volunteer Spirit that’s not only essential to the 1794 Scholars Program but also to the identity of the state of Tennessee.

To my fellow 1794 scholars, embody the potential of volunteering and embrace the positivity that derives from it. Give yourself a challenge and live up to the Volunteer Spirit. Perhaps even inquire into a fire department’s training program and experience what it’s like to hear the life-changing tone, possibly turning a unique experience into a new passion.