Sunday , 20 May 2018

Stuart J. Pearlman: My Life at the Citizens Fire Academy, Checkpoint #1, It’s Not About the Stuff, But….

By Stuart J. Pearlman, TSB Staff

As promised, thus begins the chronicle of my experience as a member of McKinney Citizen’s Fire Academy Class XVII. We have already had our first couple of sessions, and I am glad to report the group has suffered zero casualties.

McKinney Fire Department Public Information Officer Stacie Durham has the program well in hand and I can tell already it will be a good time had by all, as she promises the experience is going to be not only informative but a lot of fun.

“Citizens Fire Academy is one of our most exciting community relations and educational programs,” said Durham. “Participants experience first-hand many facets of a career in the modern professional fire service. In addition they gain a better understanding of their tax dollars at work and are quite often surprised by the variety of roles firefighters play in the community. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, get acquainted with the men and women of the McKinney Fire Department, learn new things, and have fun. MFD personnel enjoy it as much as the class members.”

My Name is Stuart, What’s Yours?

The CFA Class of 2013 consists of 19 people ranging in age from 18 to 68. (The oldest ever to participate was 78.) We each had a chance to introduce ourselves and talk a bit about why we were interested in CFA. Of particular note, there are three women who work for the City of McKinney as emergency (911) operators. Their interest in the program was to get a better feel for the kind of situations they send our firefighters and police officers into every day.

You could tell immediately this program is important to MFD. Durham made sure the heavyweights were in the house to welcome our group.

The initial meet and greet was headlined by Fire Chief Danny Kistner, Assistant Chief of Operations Tim Mock and EMS Chief Kyle Easley. I don’t know if they were simply excited to see us or entertained by the notion that this somewhat motley crew would soon attempt to repel down tall buildings! Either way, they took the time to tell us about themselves, their careers, and what motivated them about fire service.

Let’s play a game of `Do you know’

Durham wasted no time initiating our education. She promised there would not be an exam on the material but encouraged all to participate and listen closely. (Personally, I think she intends to quiz us when we least expect it.)

Here is but a sampling of the information:

  • It takes 10,000 gallons of water to put out a typical structure/house fire. If the structure has sprinklers, it takes less than 100 gallons!
  • Complete firefighter gear costs about $5,000 per individual.
  • The average career of a firefighter is 18.7 years.
  • McKinney Fire Department’s target response time to any emergency within the city is four minutes.
  • The leading killer of firefighters is heart attacks.

Hi, I’m Captain Whitus, and I will be your Tour Guide

Our second session took place at McKinney Fire Station #6. This is the station right behind Kohl’s near the Medical Center of McKinney. We were hosted by Captain John Whitus and crew and given our first official tour of a station. Whitus boasted that FS #6 is the “busiest Fire House in McKinney.”

Chief Mock gives a History Lesson

When we met Chief Mock during the first session he shared with us that MFD is actually his second time around in the firefighting business. He already retired once but could not stay away from the action. He has many stories to tell. Some can even be told in mixed company. On this night, Chief Mock gave us a glimpse into the history of firefighting and the hierarchy of the department.

Some of the highlights:

  • Fire service dates back to the Roman Empire.
  • U.S. fire service started in 1648 in Philadelphia.
  • The McKinney Fire Department was established in 1887.
  • In the 1700’s, firefighters typically wore long beards. They would soak the beards in water and hold them up to their mouths to help them breath amongst all the smoke.
  • Historically, the job of Dalmatians in fire service was to clear the streets for the horses pulling the fire wagons.
  • Only a small percentage of firefighters in the U.S. are paid. (According to statistics provided by the United States Fire Administration ( there are 1,082,500 firefighters in the US 278,300 career and 804,200 volunteer.)

Oh yeah, the Stuff

SWAG. Trinkets & trash. Call it what you want, I am all about getting stuff and so far CFA has not let me down. Just two weeks into the program and I have scored my official CFA polo shirt, a little red fire hydrant squeeze toy to help me cope with the stress of class, an official MFD promotional plastic pen and a very official-looking picture ID. In fact, Chief Mock even gave each of us noisemakers (think New Year’s Eve) to illustrate the fire alert system in the early days. It doesn’t get much better than that but who knows what lies ahead!

On the Horizon

And so, our rounds at the eight different McKinney Fire Stations has begun. Not only will we continue our scheduled class sessions, now that we have our ID’s and uniforms (see ‘Stuff’ reference above) we are allowed to do “ride-outs” on our own time.

The best advice we have gotten on the ride-outs:

  • Listen.
  • Observe but stay out of the way in emergency situations.
  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Help out with chores and duties around the station.

Most importantly, we learned that firefighters are particularly fond of Blue Bell ice cream. Don’t show up empty-handed!

About the Author

Stuart J. Pearlman is a Marketing and Communications Consultant living in McKinney.  His video column, Stuart J’s Lens can be seen weekly on  Follow Stuart on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.






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