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Q&A with Lincoln's bravest

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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With this weekend’s Fireman’s Muster, firefighters have been cast into the spotlight. The News Messenger sat down with three of Lincoln’s firefighters – Firefighter Tom Stanley, Operator T.J. Thomas and Capt. Scott Lombardi – to ask about the job. LNM: What made you want to become a firefighter? Thomas: When I was really young, our house burned down. It started in the garage and burned two-thirds of the house. I woke up crying, and that woke up the rest of my family so they could get out. Stanley: I grew up in Riverside, and during one of the Santa Ana fires, they set up an incident command post on the flat roof of my house where they could see the fire burning in the valley below. My mom had me take them coffee, and they let me hang out with them. Lombardi: I was always fascinated with the fire service and helping people. I went to work with my brother, who was a firefighter, and I liked it. LNM: What goes through your mind when you come up on a burning building? Thomas: There’s a thousand things going through our minds. Rescue is the absolute first thing. We want to rescue anybody in the building. For me, with my training as an operator, I’m looking for a hydrant or a water supply. Stanley: I’m thinking about what hose lines I need to pull. It depends on the circumstances. We always focus safety and rescue first, but it’s a different feel if it’s a house or a vacant building. Lombardi: Strategy – what are we going to do? Do we need more help? There’s so much to consider. The No.1 thing for me is safety for my crew and myself. I’ve gotta make sure my crew goes home at the end of every shift. LNM: What has been your best experience as a firefighter? Stanley: There’s a lot, actually. I had a fire a couple of years ago, and we pulled someone out of the burning building. We saved them, and that was an awesome feeling, to know that we had directly saved someone’s life. It’s not all that, though. Even when it’s just a person who fell down and needs help up, it’s a great feeling to help. I also like when we do station tours for kids and go out to the schools. Thomas: For me it’s got to be the most gratifying when I go out on strike teams (to assist in large fires). We get to these places, and you get this huge overwhelming support – people come out and put signs up to thank us. It’s really cool that people take the time out to thank us for that. Lombardi: Years ago, when I worked for another department, we went on a call where a little kid skated in front of a car and was dragged under it for a little bit. He ended up being fine. A couple of years later, we were giving kids a tour of the fire station, and he happened to be in the group. He said, “I remember you, you were there that time I got ran over and you helped me.” LNM: What do you wish the public knew about your job? Stanley: There’s a lot more to the job than what they think. Eighty percent of what we do on calls is not fighting fires, it’s medical aid. Thomas: The biggest thing right now is how severely understaffed we are – it keeps us busy. There’s a lot of times when both engines are on calls and we need to ask outside agencies for help. That happens almost every day. Lombardi: These days, 80 percent of our calls are medical aid. On top of that, we have a certain amount of hours of training each week. As firefighters, we’re always going to school. More is expected of us than in the past. We don’t just fight fires. We do rescues and even deal with hazmat (hazardous materials) now. LNM: How can the public make your job easier? Lombardi: Pull to the right and stop. Don’t come to a dead stop in front of us, don’t pull to the left and don’t pull into oncoming traffic. Thomas: Support us if we need to pass a tax measure to keep the city from being bankrupt. Stanley: It’d help us if people took the time to understand our job before passing judgment on us. We don’t just sit around all day. LNM: What are you most looking forward to in the Fireman’s Muster? Lombardi: A fun time, a lot of activities and outside agencies coming in. It’s something new for us, especially in these times when things are hard. Stanley: Socializing with the other guys. I could care less about winning any medals. I want to go out and have fun. Thomas: I’m kind of looking forward to interacting with the public on a nonprofessional basis. They will get a chance to see us off the job and ask us questions and talk to us. Lincoln’s inaugural Fireman’s Muster will be held this weekend, kicking off with a parade at 9 a.m. Saturday morning followed by firefighter competitions, a classic car show, antique firefighting equipment and a dinner dance. The event will continue Sunday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. All events are free, except for Saturday’s dinner dance, for which tickets are $15. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.