Firefighters Protect and Educate Communities
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.
Merritt Kearns is currently a Captain with the Statesboro Fire Department in Georgia. He has worked in emergency services for the last 24 years.
Merritt is also a faculty member teaching undergraduate courses in Emergency and Disaster Management and Fire Science Management at American Military University.
We asked Merritt why he chose a career in public service and how his work as a firefighter helps others.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
The fire service attracted me because it was a team-oriented career. I knew I’d enjoy the camaraderie. I was an athlete growing up and wanted a job where physical fitness played an integral part. In addition, I admit I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
A career in the fire service allows me to help people in my community during their time of need. As an educator, I help the next generation of firefighters develop their skills and abilities.
It is very satisfying to have students contact me after they graduate to share good news about their careers, such as like when they receive promotions within the fire service. I am fortunate to be able to help my students’ progress in their fire service careers.
What do you wish you knew before going into the fire service?
On the negative side, a career in the fire service makes it difficult to get enough rest due to the possibility of getting emergency calls at any time, day or night. But that is overshadowed by the fact that a fire service career gives you a true identity. When you tell people you’re a firefighter, it means something more than just a job.
What is the most satisfying and/or enjoyable part of your career?
The most satisfying part of the job for me is when I help people during difficult times in their lives. Firefighters typically interact with families and households during one of the worst times in their lives—when their house catches on fire or some other emergency. To be good at what you do in the fire service, you need to be a problem solver.
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?
My department has been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to make saves or put a quick, aggressive stop to a fire to keep it from spreading. Those are moments you think about when you are training and staying in shape for this job.
There are also times when we implement fire prevention programs in the communities. These programs reach hundreds or thousands of people a year. While it is more difficult to quantify, preventing emergencies from occurring in the first place is an important part of this job as well.
What impact does your work have on American citizens?
The fire service in our country is frequently the first line of assistance at the local level. The fire service varies, depending on if you live in an area with a volunteer fire department or in a big city with a career department.
However, the goal is the same: to offer the highest level of service possible to our communities. Not only do we fight fires, but we provide emergency medical treatment, rescue and extrication. We also offer technical and water rescue services, and inspection and prevention services.
What advice would you give others pursuing a similar career?
This is the best job in the world! If you truly want to help others and work in a career that focuses on teamwork—and has a long and proud history—the fire service is it.
In many areas of the country, it is very competitive to land a career in the fire service, so work to get every advantage you can. Get experience early on, further your education and continually strive to get better.
To learn more about Merritt’s career as a firefighter, please read his latest articles:
- Fight Cancer at Your Fire Department
- The Evolution of ICS Beyond the Fire Service
- Community Outreach During Disasters Improving with Social Media