5 Questions with an Ex-Firefighter

When people leave an occupation, you don’t always get the privilege of knowing why. However, this time is different. I was able to sit down with Truk McKinley for an interview about his days as a firefighter and why he left the department.

Even though McKinley has not lived in Oregon his whole life, he has lived in the Oakland/Sutherlin area for about ten years. McKinley joined the Oakland Rural Fire Department in Oregon back in December of 2015. His time on the ORFD lasted almost a whole year until he recently quit the team this November.

Truk McKinley standing in front of a fire engine, 2016.

Why did you join the Oakland Rural Fire District?

To assist community members and help those in their time of… distress? Emergency response has always been something I’ve taken part in, formally or informally. So, it seemed like a good route to be on in life. I am the kind of person who is always at the right place at the wrong time. I was also encouraged to join several times by community members and the department leadership.

What was it like to respond to your first call as an official member of the fire department?

The first call is always going to be nerve-wracking due to not knowing every procedural aspect and not knowing where each piece of equipment may be in the truck, and in a few cases, how to use it properly. I’m trying to remember which was the first one because there was a few of them. No matter how new your boots are, they won’t be clean ever again after your first fire call. Because that was nasty, and always will be. Okay, I remember what it was now. It was a small outside shed fire. We had to move a bunch of potentially hazardous material away from the back of the shed, cool it down, and started tearing it down until it was at a controllable state to allow it to burn itself out overnight without being a danger to anything else in the immediate area. I remember being hot and sweaty. I took my face shield off for just a moment near the fire and it was much hotter than I had expected it to be. Much different than your typical backyard bonfire.

How did you feel when responding to calls, especially the more serious ones?

With lack of initial training, uncertain about specific procedures, but confident in my abilities. On the more serious calls, I always had a certain level of adrenaline ready to go. You always want to jump in and help, but it isn’t always the safest option. So, you have to give more thought into everything you do professionally, as a firefighter.

How did joining the fire department affect your life?

At first, it did not conflict with anything already in my lifestyle. But, once I changed primary occupation, practicing drill training late Thursday nights became difficult when I work at 4 am the next day. It gave me great insight on how situations can be dealt with and why there are so many good procedures widely used [in those situations]. [Did it impact your family or friends?] My son was excited to know that his daddy was a firefighter. He’s always excited when he sees flashing lights and sirens go by as any five-year-old would be. Family, friends, and everyone around me developed an extra sense of pride and peace knowing that I’m there.

Why DID you quit the fire department?

When your core childhood values conflict with your occupation, it’s time to move on from the occupation. Things just didn’t flow right with me. My morals and instincts were in conflict with their procedures as to how and when to respond to situations that may be right in front of you. For instance, a fire a hundred feet from my own house. I believe anybody would run over to make sure everyone is okay and out of the house and do what they can to keep people safe until other responders got there. Department procedure seemed to say leave the area to go to the station, which was 3 minutes away, to gear up and come back, which would be another 5 minutes or more. This is valuable time when other people could and will be responding. Anyone with training could be doing preparatory efforts, like locating fire hydrants and making way for incoming apparatus. To me, this didn’t make sense to essentially leave people in need of assistance that are right in front of me. My fellow neighbors deserve better. I had been considering [leaving] for a couple weeks prior to having the discussion with a couple members of the department leadership.

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