When the distant whine of a fire engine or the high pitched wail of a medical unit ring in our ears most of us don’t think twice. It is just part of being a UWT student. It is part of living in a city. Yet, many of us never stop and think what might be going on. What small disaster may be at hand or what life may be at stake as those red and white lights flash by? Whether it is midday during your midterms or at 2 a.m. while you are cramming for finals, these sentinels race to any and all emergencies throughout the city of Tacoma.
Imagine you stayed up all night studying and have to take two exams and make it to work all in the same day. Now imagine those exams are really patients you must keep alive and irreplaceable possessions you must protect, and your job is to risk your life to defend them. Picture a 24 hour shift of doing this when failure is rarely an option and constant improvement is the hunger that drives you. The Tacoma Fire Department’s (TFD) Engine 1 Lieutenant Brett Collette knows this all too well. Inspired by the sense of honor and brotherhood shown at the Olympia Firefighter memorial years ago, Collette chose to become a Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician and serve his community. He described all the things that TFD does for Tacoma including a food drive with the YMCA and a program called Camp Good Times for children with cancer. TFD actively participates in these wonderful charities every year, but when asked about the most fulfilling part of his job, Collette stated:
“Putting out fires, protecting property, and saving lives.”
He then went on to say that TFD responds to more than 4,000 calls a year. Of those calls there is one fire a day. Yet, does anything wear these warriors down? Collette said that one of the hardest calls he had been on was his Oso deployment to help victims of the tragic mudslide. During his 12 day deployment, he witnessed a strong sense of community as people donated their time to help the mudslide victims. Now Collette brings that sense of community back with him to Tacoma where he strives to improve every day so he and his crew can save lives.
“Ultimately, the job is about failure. Nobody gets hurt, but this job is the most challenging thing you can do and you will fail. But you have to constantly improve.”
One time, Collette and his team had pulled a patient out of a burning building and sadly, that patient had passed away. Yet, not for lack of valor on their part. This call served as a testament to Collette’s statement of constant vigilant improvement and service to the Tacoma community.
When asked about what students can do for the community, Collette said that first and foremost, always respect fire. It is important for you to always be aware. As for EMS, Collette stated, “Learn CPR.” TFD hosts CPR training regularly for citizens of Tacoma, Fife and Fircrest, including a free session called CPR Sunday every year in October. You can register by calling this number, (253) 594-7979 taken from the City of Tacoma website. After all, you never know when you may be called upon to save someone’s life.