By Sandie Webb
Conversation and laughter around the family dinner table are nostalgic sounds in our busy lives but routine for one family of firefighters.
The men at DeKalb County Fire Station 2, which serves Brookhaven, eat dinner together every night, swapping small talk about the day’s activities and what they enjoy on their days off. Whether engaged in active sports like snowboarding or the more relaxed pastime of fishing, they all spend time in outdoor activities, and anything with family heads the list.
This group varies in age and personalities just like a nuclear family. They work, live and eat together for 24-hour shifts, then have 48 off. Sleeping quarters are in one large room,dormitory style.
Senior Capt. James Sims describes their interaction as more like that of siblings.
“Sometimes we really bug each other, just like brothers. We have to talk things out because we depend on each other. Our bond is unique in that our lives are literally in each other’s hands.”
Thirty men rotate on three 24-hour shifts (there isn’t a female firefighter at this time), with some of them traveling from as far away as Alabama to work. Station 2 has two captains per shift. Capt. Sims and Capt. Jimmy Benalcazar – referred to as Capt. Ben – work Shift A. Sims has been captain here since 2003 and with DeKalb County for 24 years, commuting over 100 miles each way from Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia.
The atmosphere is easygoing and comfortable. You can see that the men are good friends as well as co-workers. David Biles is a prankster. Larry Shaw is known for his culinary skills, although sometimes it’s lasagna a la frozen Stouffer’s. On busy days that involve tasks like equipment inventory in addition to regular calls, there’s not always time for dinner prep.
Station 2, located at 1319 Dresden Drive, started operations in March of 1956 and was expanded and completely renovated in 1990. Referred to as a “double-house station,” it is one of only three in DeKalb County with both an engine and a ladder truck. Counting those vehicles, there is more than a million dollars’ worth of equipment.
A general consensus among the men is that the hardest part of their job is any call involving injuries to children, and the more serious ones are long-remembered. Captain Ben tells of a house fire where children died. “I saw that fire and those bodies every night for a long time, a very long time. I have children of my own.”
Even with current technology, so much of the work for firefighters still depends on the basics and good common sense. They always work in pairs and stay in constant contact. Education and training is a big part of their jobs and one most enjoyed by all, from the newest recruit up to the captains with years of experience. Captain Ben said, “I really enjoy training and teaching the newer ones what I know,” and Captain Sims agreed. “The younger ones are like sponges, and that is so rewarding.”
Fortunately, these firefighters prevent more fires than they put out. All Brookhaven businesses, including multi-family housing, are inspected on a regular basis for fire code violations, identifying and eliminating hazards that could cause a fire or limit building egress. The firefighters are also responsible for inspection of all fire hydrants in their area.
When asked if their duties included rescuing stranded kittens from trees, Sims laughed, “No, we don’t rescue cats. You’ve never seen a skeleton in a tree, have you? When they get hungry they will come down.”