Life as a Hamilton Township firefighter

By Katelyn Sattler
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Katelyn Sattler
Hamilton Township Fire Department Capt. John Blankenship (left) teaches probationary recruit Zeb Liston some life saving techniques.

The day starts early for the Hamilton Township firefighters/paramedics.

They begin and end their 24-hour shift at 7 a.m. with roll call. All Hamilton Township firefighters are also paramedics. They work a 24-hour shift, then are off for 48 hours to enjoy life. They are grouped in three units: 1 Unit led by Capt. John Blankenship; 2 Unit led by Capt. Tom Ferrell; and 3 Unit led by Capt. Scott Johnson.

“When we show up at fires, everybody has an assignment,” said Blankenship. “It’s controlled chaos. If everybody does their job, the fire goes out and everybody goes home. If there’s somebody trapped, we all go and do the rescue.”

He said the ladder trucks’ job is to come in and do a search.

“They do exposure, like to find hidden fires in the wall and the ceiling,” said Blankenship. “They’re helping support the engine do their work. They also do little things like cut the electric, disconnect the power to it, the gas, anything like that.”

After roll call, the firefighters check and stock the vehicles. Firefighter/Paramedic Steve Shirkey was the engine driver and pump operator for Engine 171 for the day. Probationary recruit Zeb Liston was the engineer who sat in the back of the truck. Liston makes sure his tools and hose lines are set up right.

Shirkey explained the pump side of the truck and the mixing of foam and water to put out fires. He joked that the controls are color coded to make them, “fireman-proof.”

Firefighter/Paramedic Steve Buzzard arrived for the day after a shift as full-time assistant fire chief at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Fire Department.

Buzzard and Blankenship were assigned Medic 171.

“On our computer program, we have the accountability sheets where we go in and account for everything, all the tags and stuff, because of state mandates for drugs and everything,” said Buzzard. “And we keep them under seals and all the seals are accounted for day to day.”

When asked if anyone ever tried to steal the necessary and life-saving drugs firefighters keep aboard their trucks, Buzzard said, “Oh, we’ve had a couple of times, being on scene, where people tried to get in here and tried to pry the doors open. That’s why we’ve gone to more of a secure keypad because back in the day, we had the five punch tab or the cipher or the key lock where people would actually try to crowbar or try to pull and break it open. This makes it harder to do with that.”

With many firefighters having part-time jobs in addition to full-time work fighting fires or helping people, “Sacrifices are always made,” Buzzard said. “There have been numerous times where I’ve missed out on family gatherings, Christmases, holidays, sporting events. But it just comes with the nature of the job.”

It’s a dangerous job and loved ones are supportive, but they also worry. Buzzard said his wife does worry about him at work.

“Oh yeah,” said Buzzard. “She always tells me, ‘Have a safe day and hopefully things aren’t too bad.’ You plan for the best. You always expect the worst, though, because today, everything’s good. Later on, we could have a big fire or somebody gets hurt. It’s just one of those things in this career field. You have a passion and a drive to do it. It takes a different kind of mindset and mainframe to do what we do.”

Buzzard said the job chose him in 1972.

“Remember the old TV show, ‘Emergency’? that’s where I began,” said Buzzard. “My mom and dad could show you all the stuff they bought me back then. My mom worked at a daycare center and went through first aid classes. She would get certified in first aid, bandaging, or CPR. When we went to my grandparents’ house, I would take all the stuff I had made, med kits and things like that. I would take a big sack of stuffed animals, put them around the house, and do search and rescues and triage and all that stuff on the stuffed animals.”

Buzzard said the nature of the job means one has to have a short-term memory.

“You kind of have to flip the switch quick,” said Buzzard. “Once a case is over and you get them there. Okay. Refocus to the next one. After I get off work, I go right to the gym. I spend like two hours there, put the headphones on, turn the music on. I don’t carry a phone or anything. That’s my time just to do my thing.”

The Hamilton Township Fire Department will conduct training fires on the three houses on the Wilburn farm on October 12, 13, and 14.

Anyone interested in working as a firefighter/paramedic for Hamilton Township Fire Department, can visit

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