The first year of any job is a time to show off your skillset, form relationships with co-workers, and earn your place within the company. Certainly, this is true too of the fire service – a career in which daily tasks can range from station cleaning duties or taking life-saving measures on the scene of a car wreck, to purposely walking into a burning building.
Giving a rookie’s perspective to what life is like in the fire service is Lakeland firefighters Peterson Theophile. Theophile grew up in Haiti, moving to the United States in 2010 with his father. He lived in West Palm Beach before moving to Port Charlotte where he went to high school and first became interested in Emergency Medical Services as a potential career.
He has pursued these interests since the 10th grade, taking an EMR course in high school. It was in this class he found that the excitement, adrenalin-rush, and ability to help people within the fire service appealed to him.
He attended EMT school in college, for which he said his high school EMR class had well prepared him. After completing his fire standards, Theophile was hired on with the Ocala Fire Department (OFD) where he worked for three months before being offered a job with Lakeland Fire Department (LFD) where he has been for six months.
Coming up on a year in the fire service, Theophile reflected, “The first year has been really exciting.”
When he started at OFD he admittedly wasn’t very handy. His fellow firefighters taught him everything he needed to know from the names and use for the tools they use to how to change a tire. “I learned a lot with them [in Ocala] and when I came down here, they taught me even more,” he said. “Not just about the fire service, but about life itself in general.”
Along with soaking up every bit of information he can, Theophile has been working to earn his spot at the station. “[In] station life, you have to be really respectful. As a rookie, you have to be the first one to do everything. Everybody had to go through it – you’ve got to earn your spot,” he said. “Everybody who was here before you – they’ve earned their respect, they’ve earned their spot.”
Between saving lives and community outreach, the firefighters even have time for a few good-natured pranks. When asked if he had any funny rookie moments on the job, Theophile laughed and said, “Every day.” The most recent involved a lizard (which Peterson isn’t a fan of) being put on his back. Jokes aside, Peterson feels like he is truly a part of the fire service’s brotherhood/ sisterhood. He still has friends from his time serving in Ocala and described LFD as “a family.”
Life in the fire service isn’t as it’s depicted on tv says Theophile. It isn’t nonstop saving babies from burning buildings and getting cats down from treetops. Though they do go on many dangerous and exciting calls, not everything is as dramatic as on television.
“The station is our second home. When we come here in the morning, we have morning detail that we always clean, we cook all ourselves. We each chip in $10 and we have one person that cooks – it’s not all exciting. There are certain things you have to do every shift,” he said. Whether it is a big call or minuscule station duties, he said, “Everything I do here, I enjoy very much.”
Surprisingly it isn’t the dangerous or adrenaline-inducing calls that this firefighter enjoys the most – it’s helping senior citizens in their time of need. The fire department often receives calls to assist seniors who have fallen. “We all have grandparents that could be in that situation, we’re all going to get old one day. When I go to those calls, I make sure I treat them with respect because that might be me one day and they deserve the utmost respect,” he said.
Theophile’s nearest career aspirations are to become a driver and eventually one day work his way up the ranks to a lieutenant. Thankfully, he has many mentors to help him along the way. “At my shift, in this station – everybody’s a mentor. Everyone teaches me and every day I learn something new from everyone at the station,” he said.
Perhaps one day he’ll be a mentor to a rookie firefighter. His first-year advice to someone thinking of joining the service was to, above all else, work hard. “And even when you make it, you continue to work hard and learn something new every day and train every day,” he said, “The work doesn’t stop.”