HFD's Fischer honored for dedication to duty
Douglas Fischer wasn’t scheduled Thursday for a stint at the Helena Fire Department, but this wasn’t a shift he would want to miss.
Soft-spoken but passionate about his role with the fire department, Fischer's job on this day was to sit at the head of one of the tables during the Exchange Club of Helena luncheon at the fire station.
He needed to prepare some remarks, too, as he was going to be honored by the club as Helena’s Firefighter of the Year.
“Getting an award for what I already like to do is pretty awesome,” Fischer said before the ceremony.
In addition to the trophy he received, the club provided $500 to be donated to the charity of his choice and $500 to the fire department to use at its discretion.
Fire Chief Sean Logan said it’s difficult to single out someone for this honor. He was selected for the first Exchange Club Firefighter of the Year in 2002.
“All of our guys are motivated to provide the best service they can to the public,” Logan said. “But there are guys who stand above it.”
When the department’s emergency medical service administrator proposed a plan to upgrade the department’s licensure in response to changes proposed by the state, Fischer was among those who helped train fellow firefighters. He put in what Logan called “countless hours” to make the plan successful.
Fischer is also part of the department’s hazardous materials team and on its confine-space rescue team. Fischer is a paramedic, Logan said to further explain the reasons for the honor.
The 29-year old firefighter/paramedic marked his eighth year with the department on Sept. 18. Wearing a light-blue shirt with a silver fire department badge pinned above the left pocket, he sat and talked about what it means to him to be a firefighter.
Firefighting runs in Fischer’s family. His father was a volunteer firefighter. So was his uncle. His grandfather was also among those who could be counted on to respond to calls. They all were part of the Opportunity Volunteer Fire Department in Anaconda.
He recalls seeing his father’s firefighting boots, pants and jacket at home. Firefighters took their gear home to save time when responding to calls. The pager would be sitting in the bedroom.
“The older I got, the more I thought that was something I’d like to do,” he said.
His father taught him “you have to have expectations for yourself,” he said, and not to look to others to define right from wrong.
Today, personal motivation drives him to improve his performance continually.
“I have to be ready to do this job,” Fischer said.
“We train to a certain point, and then we try to get better," he said.
“What we do can be dangerous,” he explained of the situations and consequences for firefighters and those they are summoned to assist.
The standard they use for themselves is to ask whether they are competent to treat their own family members, Fischer said.
While he was in high school in Anaconda, his first and last class of each day allowed him to be at the Anaconda Fire Department, where he began to acquire the knowledge and training he would need.
“They had set me up to have certifications that would benefit me down the road,” he explained.
He earned an Associates of Applied Science degree in fire and rescue from Helena College, Logan said.
For two years as scheduling allowed, Fischer attended classes at the Livingston Fire Department to earn his paramedic license along with fellow Helena firefighter Brandt Buresh.
“Members of the community hold us in pretty high regard,” Fischer said, explaining that it’s important to him to try and do a good job.
He’s able to share his days with his girlfriend who listens, he said, and provides support for him after a difficult shift.
His job isn’t all lights and sirens. Part of his responsibilities with the fire department have him inspecting the apparel that firefighters wear when responding to calls.
He and firefighter Mike McDaniel look at firefighters’ personal protective gear to decide what needs repair or replacement. They look to see if the gear meets the needs of firefighters.
Coats and pants that show their wear can allow steam to penetrate the garments and burn the firefighters, he said.
Laundering the coats and pants that are the firefighters' dress for battle isn’t a job that earns the spotlight, he said, but it keeps firefighters safe.
“I think that’s important. It’s behind the scenes, but it’s really necessary," he said.
His roles, like those of others at the department, are varied. The fire department isn’t large enough for firefighters to be assigned to a single task.
When not on rescue calls, which contribute significantly to the fire department’s responsibilities, he may be assigned to drive a fire engine and monitor the water pressure in hoses being used to fight fires.
“You have to be the master of that vehicle,” he explained.
Fischer is quick to credit those he works with, too, and said, “It’s not just a one-person show.”
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “I think this is what I always wanted to do.”
“It’s very satisfying knowing you were able to help someone," he added.
Al Knauber can be reached at email@example.com