Beyond Fighting Fire

A day in the life of a Falmouth firefighter

By Lannan M. O’Brien | Above photo by Lannan M. O’Brien / Action shots courtesy of Falmouth Fire

There is a quiet escape in walking down Falmouth’s Main Street. Something about the architecture of its quaint shops and restaurants when paired with the American flags that line the street seems to extend a hand in a warm greeting to those who grace its sidewalks. Perhaps this is why thousands of people travel to Falmouth each summer from all over the country—the world, even—for a taste of its Norman Rockwell-esque charm.

But pass the library and Peg Noonan Park heading toward King Street, and you’ll find the headquarters of men and women who face a different reality of town life. It comes in the form of 9-1-1 calls, and they are the ones who typically arrive at the scene first. They are the roughly 75 members of the Falmouth Fire/Rescue Department.

Captain Bruce Girouard has been with the department since 1992. As firefighters, he says, “We’re going to see a lot of stuff in our careers that’s not very pretty, that 99 percent of the public will never see unless they watch a movie.”

The department responds to roughly 7,300 calls per year, ranging from medical emergencies to boating rescues, and of course, fires. For Capt. Girouard and his shift team, witnessing traumatic experiences is simply part of the job, but recognizing that doesn’t diminish the challenges they face in their daily work.

Sometimes, levity can be the best medicine. They usually decompress from a difficult call simply by making each other laugh. “99.9 percent of the time we deal with it on the shift,” Capt. Girouard says. After every incident they return to the station and talk about it in a practice called Post Incident Analysis (PIA). The discussion allows them to critically review the incident and ensure the well-being of everyone who responded. Usually, the captain recognizes any issues beforehand. “I know my guys and I know when someone’s not 100 percent,” he says. For especially serious cases, the department has the option of calling on the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team (CISD), a team of firefighters and police officers trained to work with departments after traumatizing incidents.

Everyone deals with stressful situations differently, says Deputy Chief Timothy Smith, who is in his 30th year at the department. “One incident could affect somebody or cumulative incidents throughout your career could have an impact.”

While the issues that firefighters encounter are often beyond their control, he says, it’s important for them to remember the goal of their work: to help the individuals and families who are experiencing emergencies.

The vast majority of calls that the department receives are medical, and what callers perceive as an emergency is not always serious. For younger firefighters, Dep. Smith says, this can be frustrating. “I just remind them that someday it could be them asking for help,” he says. “If they have an elderly person having a bad day… we might not think it is an emergency, but it is to them.”

After years of working his way up through the ranks, Dep. Smith has seen “more than most guys would ever see in their careers.” That, he says, is just the nature of the job. Despite all this, he still believes firmly that firefighting is the best job in the world—and, he says, most of the other firefighters would agree. “If you have a good rescue, if you reversed an overdose, if you were able to help somebody—that makes it all worthwhile.”


Q&A

We asked members of the Falmouth Fire Rescue where in town 
they go to blow off steam. Here’s what they had to say.

MICHAEL SMALL – FIRE CHIEF

How he unwinds: “Harley and Davidson.” Chief Small rides his motorcycle, often with his wife, about nine months out of the year. He also plays electric and acoustic guitar.

Favorite route: “Central Ave. to Menauhant Road, down to the Heights, then Surf Drive to Nobska (Light).” For longer trips, he rides to Laconia, New Hampshire, and sometimes up to Canada.

When he’s not on the road: “Almost everything I’ve done to blow off steam in the past few years has been family-related.” Chief Small’s oldest daughter recently graduated from the University of Delaware, and his youngest daughter currently plays hockey there. “We’ll go to visit and catch hockey games.”


TIMOTHY SMITH – DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF

How he unwinds: “I go home and spend time with my family.” He has one son in high school and another in college, attending the University of Vermont.

Favorite local spots: “I like all the local places. Chapoquoit Grill, La Cucina (Sul Mare).”

Why he likes Falmouth: “Falmouth is unique because of Main Street. We’ve got some great places. One thing that I like is that you go out here and there’s always going to be someone you know.”


BRUCE GIROUARD – FIRE CAPTAIN

How he unwinds: “When I want to blow off steam, I go on the water… boating, fishing, diving, all of the above.” “That’s my release. As soon as you get on the water, everything disappears.”

Where to find him at sea: “The big rock,” he jokes. “It depends on what I’m chasing because there’s a season for everything on Cape Cod.”

What he’s fishing for: “Once the striped bass are running, I’ll be chasing those. After fishing, there’s clamming to do. Then hunting season will be here.”


GREG THOMAS – FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC

How he unwinds: “I go out to Añejo (Mexican Bistro & Tequila Bar). One of my friends bartends there.”

Drink of choice: “I only drink beer, so Negra Modelo.”

Favorite appetizer: “The guacamole is really good.”


CHRIS TAYLOR – FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC

How he unwinds: “I go fishing.”

Go-to spots: “I haven’t really been down here yet.” He currently lives in Hyde Park and is moving to Falmouth soon. “I’ll do the canal or I go out of Barnstable. I have a little freshwater boat.”

Taylor and Thomas, who graduated from the state fire academy in December, are the newest members of the department.


JOHN BORSELLI – FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC

How he unwinds: “In the summertime, I like the Landfall. In the offseason, I’d say Grumpy’s. I like that they have pool tables and affordable drinks. The live music is good in the winter, and Crooked Coast plays there.”

Favorite outdoor spot: “I like to take walks down at The Knob. It’s a cool spot.”


BRENDON FREITAS – FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC

How he unwinds: “Probably the (Shining Sea) Bike Path. It takes my mind off everything.”

Favorite route: “I usually start up north because I live in Wareham.”


CHRIS HAMBLIN – FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC

How he unwinds: “We go to (J.R.) Brody’s a lot. Or I go boating.”

Where to find him at sea: “The water,” he jokes. Kidding aside: “Oak Bluffs, Washburn Island.”

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