William Smith, 37, has been with the Richmond Fire Department for two years. He’s currently based at Station Number 6 at the corner of Jefferson and Canal, the city’s only Advanced Life Support Company. ALS designation indicates cross training that allows firefighters to respond to incidents deemed too specialized for paramedics. He lives in Southside with his wife Sheryl Walker Smith, and their two children Khari, 7, and Imani, 13. At the close of a busy afternoon training at the James River in Swift Water Rescue, he talked about the challenges and rewards of his job.
“I was working for public utilities and that job was nice, but I would always come into contact with the Fire Department and it seemed like more challenging of a job. I was working by myself mostly. Here I work with a group of guys, we train with a group of guys, we stay at the station twenty four hours with the same core group of guys. It’s like a family environment.”
“The other thing is, everyone can’t do it. Everyone can’t be a firefighter. It seemed like an exciting job to do. Nothing is the same. You can go to work one day and have different tasks that day, come back the following day and have totally different calls. It’s exciting.”
“The main challenge [of firefighting], is my family had to get used to the schedule, because I’m away for twenty four hours. One good thing about it is the fire department is your second home away from home so my family can stop by anytime. I have a 7 year old son and 13 year old daughter. My wife can call and when we’re not that busy, they stop by. I had to work Thanksgiving and Christmas and the family was still able to stop by.”
“My wife gets worried, of course. But I tell her that we try to stay safe as possible. They understand that this is what I like to do so they support me a lot. My son of course is glad that I’m a firefighter. When we have different incidents that we have to respond to, a couple days later, I explain to them what went on. They get pretty excited about that. My son really likes coming by [the station.] The guys pick with him all the time and have a good time. They get to see him grow up. They’ve seen him evolve, and before you know it, he’ll be [a teenager.]”
“My son plays youth soccer, so I take up a lot of time with him, practicing, and just hanging out at the house. I try to spend as much time as I can with the family. That’s the biggest thing.”
“For July 4? I believe we have to work the day before and after. When I know I have to come into work the next day, I try not to do too much so I won’t be too tired at work the next morning. Maybe I’ll just barbeque a little, visit some family and friends, and get ready for work the next day.”
“I’m pretty much laid back. I take everything in perspective. I enjoy what I’m doing. That’s the main thing. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to be somewhat good at it. When you get to see the face of someone you’ve helped, that gives you a good feeling. [Being a firefighter] makes my kids aware. We talk about incidents on the river, so I can let the kids know about supervision and safety.”