A day in the life of a Destin firefighter

Genevieve DiNatale
Fire Chief Kevin Sasser stands in the day room with some firefighters at the Destin Fire Control District headquarters on Airport Road. [MICHAEL SNYDER/THE LOG]

The life of a firefighter certainly isn’t all fun and games, said Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser.

“I know we don’t play checkers anymore like everyone thinks we used to do,” Sasser said when asked what his firefighters do in their downtime.

Instead, Destin's firefighters spend their downtime working out, cooking or watching television. But that routine is often interrupted by incoming fire calls. Sasser said the department usually runs at least 25 calls a day, and can run as many as 35.

"In a 24-hour day, that means we are turning on every hour. There might be times when we go a couple hours without them, but we may turn maybe three or four calls in an hour, depending on the degree of the calls,” said Sasser. “So if you are on a fender bender accident you might go there, respond to it, check to see if there are no leaks, no injuries or that kind of stuff and then clear the scene.”

Firefighters work a 24-48 hour shift in order to ensure 24/7 coverage. Firefighters are broken into three platoons, with each platoon working a full 24-hour shift and then taking two days off. That means that firefighters spend the entire day functioning out of the station, staying there to sleep if there’s time.

“The facilities we have here are for them, just like they would have at home so to speak,” explained Sasser. “They have a bed, they have a kitchen, we have a dining room table, recliners, a TV just like they have at a house.”

The firefighters also make their own beds and meticulously clean the kitchen, where the counters are notably shiny.

And they aren’t just cleaning the kitchen. When the firefighters get in at 7 a.m., they clean their stations, check in with those on the prior shift to see what calls they’ve been on, and then check out their equipment, a two-hour process.

“And then they go about checking their equipment, their trucks and all their equipment on it,” he said. “They clean their stations because they are here 24/7. This is their second home, just like at home, we have to clean it.”

Battalion Chief Mark Hutchinson pointed out that firefighters spend one-third of their working lives with their shift partners, and that time includes birthdays and holidays.

"In all reality you spend more time with your shift guys than you (do with) your own family," he said.

Firefighters work all holidays from Halloween, to Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the firefighters who work on Christmas in Destin celebrate at the station, bringing their children in to open presents and eat Christmas dinner with the crew.

Not all days are that typical. Both Sasser and Hutchinson have been on some pretty strange calls in their day, they said.

“I’ve been here for 22 years in March and you can go from the saddest call in the world, be on your way back to the station, turn around and run one of the funniest calls in the world,” said Hutchinson.

One of the weirdest calls they’ve been on, recalled Sasser, was a request to get a pet iguana out of a tree.

“When we got there it was more like one of those Kimono dragons,” said Sasser. “It wasn’t really an iguana, it was an I-G-U-A-N-A,” he said, holding out his hands out to signify the length.

Sasser said that when they got the lizard out of the tree it ran behind the bush and stayed there with its mouth open waiting to bite. When the chief grabbed the lizard’s tail, it swung around to bite him, which is when he accidentally threw it toward Hutchinson. Luckily, it just skirted by him.

“Have you ever seen the Matrix?” asked Hutchinson. “That’s what I looked like.”