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City Accepting New Firefighters: What Are They Getting Into?

Fire captain dishes on the stresses—and joys—of the job.

This week, thousands of people are likely to swarm Minneapolis' fire stations.

Four days ago, the Minneapolis Fire Department started giving away applications to prospective recruits who want to join the department's first batch of new firefighters at any city fire station. In three days, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, the department will start accepting applications in person at the city's armory at 1025 Broadway Street NE.*

Interested in applying? Find details on the MFD's website .

If past history is any guide, though, hopeful members of Minneapolis’ Bravest could swamp those stations soon. The last time the department hired new staff in 2006, said fire Captain Melanie Rucker, over 1,800 applied. Some applicants came as far away as California, but many were from the Twin Cities and from nearby states. Some were members of volunteer fire brigades in Minnesota towns, she said, chomping at the bit to become a full-time firefighter in the state's biggest department. 

But what will they be getting themselves into?

"It's definitely a challenging job that requires a person of strong character," Rucker told Patch in a recent interview. "It's a very unique job—you fight fires; you carry out rope rescues, water rescues, rescues from confined spaces; you respond to hazardous materials spills; you're an EMT. We're there from nose bleeds to gunshot wounds"

For starters, she said, fighting fires is incredibly physically demanding. No matter whether a crew is responding in the dead of Minnesota's frigid winter or on a 90-degree summer day, they can't stop. While trying to stop a blaze, firefighters sometimes have to chop through roofs and walls to expose the flames inside, or haul people down ladders or stairs to safety.

The job can be very emotionally taxing, too, Rucker explained. You and your colleagues routinely find yourselves in danger and at risk of serious injury or death.

"Your fellow firefighters are like your second family, your home away from home," Rucker said. "You live with them for two 24 hour shifts per week. It can be tough getting along, but you make lifetime friends."

Perhaps surprisingly, Rucker said, the job has not been much of a drag on family life for her.

"My son was four when I started. At first, he was worried about the danger. Now, I'm the greatest thing—he's very proud," she said.

Even the long shifts have helped her as a mother. By cramming a 50-hour workweek into 48 hours, she said, she's been able to be a "super mom" who's very involved in her children's lives.

On the job, Rucker said she's found gratification in the small miracles that fire crews perform regularly.

"When you're doing CPR, and you bring them back—knowing they survived is a huge gratification," Rucker said. "

Alongside that kind of gratification, though, is a competitive, adrenaline-fueled element that the former athlete in Rucker enjoys—catching a fire fast is a challenge.

"The biggest gratification I get is minimizing the damage, knocking down a fire fast, especially if you're saving someone's life," Rucker said. "Making that stop fast means the homeowner or family involved has less to recover from." 

Sometimes, though, all the training and speed in the world isn't enough to save someone's life. While tragic, Rucker said she's able to console herself with having tried her hardest.

"Knowing you helped or tried to help someone, and the feedback that you get for helping a community is so rewarding," she said. "It helps push me along.

*Correction: This article originally stated that applications would be accepted at all city fire stations. 

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