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Red, White and a Rookie

Chris Carter of Columbus has wanted to be a firefighter since he was a little kid. He admits his career ambition stemmed mostly from a want to drive a fire truck, but has since found value in the brotherhood being a fireman brings as well as the ability to make a difference in the world.

The 26-year-old Carter is married to Pegan Carter, who works at State Farm, and together they have a three-year-old daughter, Hannah Raye.

Carter is one of the newest firemen at Columbus Fire Department, having graduated from the fire academy in May and having done his first shift at Station 2 one month ago on June 5 of this year.

But Carter is no stranger to the emergency services that Columbus and Lowndes County provide. Before changing to the fire department, Carter worked for E-911 full time for several years. He continues to pull a few shifts there on his days off.
Carter worked for a bank before E-911, and when he made the move it was just a career change.

“I got into it,” said Carter. “It was a lot of fun. Being able to help people on the phone, and the teamwork inside the call center…everyone there is devoted to making sure whoever is on the other side of the line gets the help they need. Whether they have been in a car accident or their child is choking or they have a snake in the house, we work together to help them. The reward there goes to the team instead of the individual.”

He says that while he enjoys taking and dispatching calls at E-911, now that he’s been on the other side and has been able to go out on calls and actively help people, he prefers the fire department.

“It’s hard,” said Carter. “It’s a different type of stress, being on each side of it. Whenever I’m in that dispatch chair, I hear the call but can’t go help. But whenever I’m (at the fire department), I can hear all the phones ringing in the background and wish I was there helping.”

But there is something to be said for that big red truck. “I love the fire department because I can get out there and put my hands on it and see what’s going on. I can see and help the patient or watch my firefighter brother’s back.”
The camaraderie between firemen is often spoken of, and is Carter’s favorite thing about working at the station.

“I’m new to the fire department right now, and am kind of like a little brother. But you come in in the morning and get along with everybody and do your job. Everyone here just wants to get everyone home to their families at the end of the day and you bond over that.”

Carter said it’s hard not to get close to station-mates because “You spend a third of your life here. Every third day, for 24 hours, you’re here. It’s like a second home.”

When asked, the rookie said the hardest part of the job has been the physical training he’s had to endure to be prepared to fight fires and respond to other emergency calls.

“The physical aspect of it has been hard,” he said. “You never really get used to the heat of being in a fire. Every time I put on my gear I say I just have to get used to it… but then guys that have been here 20 years say they haven’t yet.”
Carter said he hasn’t been on any major calls yet, the largest incident being a house fire on Father’s Day where a stove caught flame.

“When we got there, the doors were all open and there wasn’t really any smoke,” he said. “We asked the homeowner if the fire was out, and she told us it was still going in there. We went in with an extinguisher and put it out, there was very minimal damage.”

Carter will be going to EMT Basic in August of this year to get his medical training. About 85% of the calls Columbus Fire and Rescue respond to are medical, which Carter well knows due to his time at E-911.

“I think I was a little more mentally prepared by working at E-911,” he said. “To the extent of knowing what kind of things happen and the territory… though I do get a little turned around riding backwards on the truck.”

As a rookie firefighter, Carter has be subjected to some initiation rites by the more senior members of Columbus Fire and Rescue.

“Oh I got baptized one night,” he said smiling. “We were doing pushups and I looked and the guy right across from me had backed up a little bit. I knew something was going on. By the time I got to four, a five-gallon cooler of ice water came down on me. That was cold.”

Engineer Randall Beatty said that Carter got off lucky. “We don’t do as much to the rookies as was done in our day (referring to Captain Kirk McKellar). I got my sheets frozen in a bucket of water once.”

But Carter says he doesn’t mind the hazing. It’s part of the brotherhood. “This isn’t just a job,” he said. “It’s a career, a family, a second home. You’re getting paid to have fun, you’re getting paid to come back home.”

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