Since childhood, Lieutenant/ EMT Charlie Robles has been drawn to his profession. After joining the fire service, he came across a paper he’d done in kindergarten describing what he wanted to be when he grew up – a firefighter.
Robles was born in Connecticut and moved to Florida twenty-something years ago. He wasn’t focused on firefighting until a friend of his talked him into going to school for it with him.
He first became an EMT and then went through his Fire Standards. He was hired for his first job as a firefighter with Winter Haven Fire Department Station 1, eleven years ago in September. The married father of three says his children ages 14, 11, and one keep him pretty busy when he isn’t on shift. Like many in the fire service, the lieutenant also has a second job, marketing for a sleep study company.
Lieutenant Robles says the most fulfilling part of his job is the ability to help people. He said that he’s found a sense of pride in the amount of time he’s dedicated to the service and in representing his department and the Winter Haven community.
Always on Call
Lieutenant Robles shed light on the misconception that firefighters have free time when they are not responding to a call. “We are one of the busiest stations in the county,” he said. “We run two of the busiest trucks in the county.”
With the downtime they do have, everyone on shift is training or fulfilling station duties. “If someone comes in to tour the station, that’s the first thing they walk into – a big screen tv and recliners – that’s some of the misconceptions that we’re just kicking back watching tv all day long. That’s not the case at all,” he said.
Often times when people see them out and about, at a grocery store, for instance, they’ll ask who’s watching the station. Robles said, “Even though we’re doing other things, we’re always subject to calls. We always have to provide the service.”
A Lieutenant’s Responsibility
The medical calls they run are handled with the same level of importance as a fire, but they are more routine, comprising the overwhelming majority of what they respond to.
They hear the tone overhead and are given the address and nature of the call. “In route to that call, you’re reading the notes of what the call is going to be and you go through the steps in your head of what you’re going to lay out when you get there,” explained the lieutenant.
“When fires come in, as a Lieutenant, you’ve got a lot more responsibility that you have to think of,” he said. It is his job to oversee the scene, make sure the firefighters are doing what they need to be doing, and, “Overall, the main thing is making sure that everyone is safe.”
The responsibility he feels is made stronger by the relationships the firefighters develop. The lieutenant said, “Over an entire career, you spend one-third of your life with the individuals that are here – about just as much time as you spend with your family.”
Outside of work, they attend each other’s kid’s birthday parties and social gatherings. “It’s a pretty strong bond that you develop with everyone,” he said.
Dealing with Difficult Situations
The mental demand of the fire service is strenuous. Day in and day out first responders are witness to and charged with helping in dire and traumatic situations.
Lieutenant Robles discussed dealing with that stress, saying, “First starting out, there’s a process that you have to implement. It takes you a little bit to build that up. When I first started off, it wasn’t as easy as it is now to come back and eat lunch or continue with the day and not think about it.”
Building that “tough skin” is a different process for everyone. “For me, for the most part, we’ll run a call and then as soon as we get back in the truck it’s done with. I’m ready for the next thing,” he said.
For the more serious calls, they have something they can put into place called CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management). It is up to the lieutenant or chief to make that decision. Robles said, “We know each other really well, so we know when someone’s off or they come back and you can tell by their body language or things of that nature that they were bothered by that call. That’s when we go ahead and activate that.”
The stress management debriefing allows the shift to sit together and go around the table to talk about the situation.
Still Having Fun
Lieutenant Charlie Robles is satisfied with where he is in his career. The next ascension in the fire service ladder for him would be battalion chief. He said, “You have to know a great deal of the job and all the different aspects of incidents that you can run into to be able to command an entire shift. I feel like I need to get to that point first before I even look at that aspect, and I’m also still having fun running calls.”