For David O’Neal, service is in the blood. The Glynn County firefighter’s father was a police officer so it was natural that he gravitated toward a career in public safety.
“I started as a firefighter in 2006,” O’Neal recalled.
As one can imagine, it is a path that comes with a fair amount of stress. The job requires one to run into a burning building as well as provide life saving CPR. Then there’s simply living with the knowledge that a tragedy could happen at any moment leaves one always a bit on edge.
“You don’t get a whole lot of sleep,” he said with a laugh. “There are certain sounds that trigger you to wake up.”
The gravity of the role is never far from his mind. O’Neal and the other firefighters at Post 343 in Glynn County chose that moniker in honor of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11.
Danger is simply part of the job description. Even so, if O’Neal had it to do over, he would make the same decision. Helping someone during their most desperate times brings with it a sense of accomplishment and pride that is hard to match.
“There’s really no better feeling than knowing that you really helped someone. You can see it in their eyes. It’s very rewarding,” he said.
It is certainly what keeps him going. It is also something that he thinks others would find just as special. That’s why O’Neal wanted to help bring a program that targets young people to Glynn County.
Titled Fire Service Exploring, the educational series is part of a national initiative that pairs students and young adults with service-oriented careers in order to expose them to these options. Participants are between 14 and age 20. They will receive hands on training, learning all the things it takes to become a professional firefighter or EMS member.
“It’s basically our own in-house fire academy. They learn everything that we do. They will get to go on calls with us and while they won’t be able to go inside a burning building, they will be able to watch on site from the safe zone,” O’Neal said. “It is a really good life experience for them. They will have to have at least a 2.0 GPA, (complete) physical agility test and sit for an oral interview.”
The admission process mirrors that of the actual fire academy that prospective firefighters attend. O’Neal said their prime target is high school aged students. They are approaching an age — 18 — where they could actually join the squad. The program will prepare them in an unprecedented way.
“It used to be that you had to be 21 to join, but now it’s 18. We would love to have anyone join us who is interested. Even if they aren’t in high school, if they have a GED or have graduated, they can still join,” he said.
O’Neal and his fellow firefighters held an open house Monday evening to meet interested students and their families. But it will remain open to anyone interested in joining. The group will hold bimonthly meetings where a different training will be provided.
“They will be doing different things each time ... it will all be hands on,” he said.
But even more than learning the ropes of firefighting, participants will be learning life lessons applicable to any number of scenarios.
“Even if they aren’t interested in going into firefighting, it will be a great thing for their college resumes. It really stresses good leadership skills and discipline, which are obviously things you have to has as a firefighter,” he said. “It helps to build strength of character.”
Anyone who fits the qualifications and is interested is encouraged to reach out to O’Neal for more information. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at email@example.com or at 912-265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.