Increasing Fire Safety for Children and Neighborhoods
This article is part of a series focusing on individuals who dedicate their careers to serving the public in honor of Public Service Recognition Week.
Mason Pooler is the Deputy Chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau for the West Allis Fire Department in Wisconsin. He has spent 17 years as a firefighter and paramedic. Mason is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at American Public University.
We asked Mason why he chose a career in public service and how his work as a firefighter and paramedic helps others.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a firefighter?
Shortly after high school, I worked as a forklift driver in a warehouse. I had no knowledge of the fire service, but one of my coworkers was a volunteer firefighter. He would come into work every morning with stories of helping people with medical emergencies, putting out fires and providing fire safety education at local schools.
This piqued my interest, so I joined the Thiensville (WI) Fire Department as a volunteer. After a year of volunteering in a small community, I knew this was what I wanted to do for a career.
From there, I moved on to the Germantown (WI) Fire Department, where I was employed part-time in a department that relied on a combination of part-time employees and volunteers. After that, I worked in Merrill, Wisconsin as a full-time firefighter in a very rural community. Most recently, I have been employed in West Allis, Wisconsin as a firefighter in a very urban setting. I was promoted to Lieutenant and am now the Deputy Chief.
I experienced the fire service in a variety of capacities—as a volunteer, part-time, and full-time employee in both rural and urban areas. That experience helped me appreciate the barriers faced by fire agencies trying to protect communities of various sizes.
What do you wish you knew before going into the fire service?
I wish I’d known how important formal education would be to receive advancement opportunities. I took several years off school after getting hired as a firefighter. Once I realized that I needed to go back to school to advance through the ranks, I took on a huge workload at school in order to become a viable candidate within a reasonable amount of time.
What is the most satisfying and/or enjoyable aspect of your career?
Every October, fire departments across the nation observe Fire Prevention Week. This week is dedicated to educating school-age children about the importance of fire safety.
Our community has 21 schools that we visit and almost 3,500 children who participate in the program. Helping to develop and implement this fire safety program each year is very rewarding.
However, the importance really sinks in when I run into children later in the year outside of school. They recognize me from visiting their classroom and repeat things such as, “Stop, drop and roll.” Knowing that those children retained these safety messages long after my presentation is proof that the fire safety program works and we’re keeping these children safe.
Is there a moment or incident that you reflect upon fondly as being highly representative of why you pursued this career in the first place?
Last October, I developed a door-to-door smoke alarm installation program. It was targeted to the riskiest neighborhood in the community that I serve.
Recently, we installed more than 350 smoke alarms in a neighborhood that has experienced the most fires in our city. Helping develop the program was rewarding enough, but it also meant getting out into the neighborhood and into those homes. Experiencing the gratitude of those families was amazing.
What impact does your work have on American citizens?
The fire service has become America’s safety blanket for nearly any imaginable emergency. We respond to fires, car accidents and medical emergencies.
But if you have a person with a disabled electric wheelchair stuck in the street, who gets called? Who helps out when there’s a family of ducks stuck in a sewer drain? Who gets called when someone get locked out of their house?
The fire department is the default agency that handles any unforeseen circumstance, large or small. When a person dials 911, the dispatcher only has two options: send the police or the fire department. If what prompted the phone call isn’t criminal in nature, you get a fire truck at your front door.
What advice would you give others pursuing a career in the fire service?
Never stop going to school. Most young firefighters get hired after completing an associate’s degree at a local technical school. They enjoy the fruits of their hard work and spend the bulk of their time honing their craft at the fire station.
However, once you get hired, it becomes difficult to go back to school. The fire service is under higher expectations than ever to provide experienced, educated officers capable of moving through the ranks.
You think that you’ll return to school 5, 10 or 15 years after you get hired as an entry-level firefighter. The reality is that few people follow through on their higher education.
Once you get hired, stay enrolled in school even if it is one class at a time. Completing an undergrad or graduate degree seems far less intimidating if you have some college credits already completed.
To learn more about Mason’s service and the challenges of firefighters in Wisconsin, read his article: