Sometimes, unknowingly, you stumble upon your true passion. Such was the case for 23-year-old Kevin Hernandez, who first stepped foot in Point Breeze Fire Department as a high school senior, intending only to complete his mandatory community service hours needed for graduation alongside a few close friends. “Most of us thought that this would just be a walk in the park,” Hernandez remembers, “that we would get our hours, graduate, and move on with our lives. We were all very wrong.” Now six years in, Hernandez is a proud, six-year veteran volunteer firefighter, and a captain, serving the Breezy Point, NY, community. In celebration of Fire Prevention Month, GOOD is partnering with Nest to share the personal stories of Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department. Here, we take a closer look into the life of Captain Kevin Hernandez; his firehouse, what motivated him to become a volunteer firefighter, and the daily struggles and triumphs of his profession.
Drawn to the firehouse for both the excitement and familial vibe, Hernandez threw himself into the extensive training he knew it would take before he could become a full-fledged firefighter. Starting as a probationary firefighter (a “probie,” Hernandez says they affectionately call rookies), Hernandez set about learning the ropes—tackling fire academy courses coupled with numerous in-house exams and drills to test both his mental and physical stamina. The day he graduated from probation status to firefighter, “when they take away your pumpkin patch—all probies wear orange helmet badges signifying their role—and give you a black helmet patch with your company number on it, signifying you’re a firefighter,” was one Hernandez won’t soon forget. Even after attaining true firefighter status, he carried on with his firehouse education training, taking courses in EMT training, fireground communication, fire officer training, hazmat training, and more. “In the firehouse, there’s always room to learn and grow, no matter how long you’ve been there, or how many fires you’ve been to,” Hernandez says. “The seasoned senior men always told me when I first joined, ‘No two fires are ever the same, kid.’”
As continual firefighting education is of interest to Hernandez, so too is teaching the public about general fire safety and prevention. He emphasizes the importance of smoke detectors in every home—making sure they’re in working order, where they’re located, and what to do in the event that they’re activated. “Many fatal fires can be prevented if all homes have working smoke detectors,” he says. But another preventative measure is installing a carbon monoxide detector in the home, which is paid much less attention, but is no less important. In fact, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in North America, linked to over 36,000 medical visits per year (each of which costs nearly $16,000 a visit) and 472 unfortunate fatalities. Additionally, Hernandez says, families should have evacuation plans and meeting spots a safe distance outside the home in the event of a fire.
While Hernandez truly loves his volunteer post, he hopes it will lead to a full-time career position eventually. Conceding that his passion for firefighting can be straining on his personal life, he counts himself lucky that his family is incredibly supportive and proud of all his achievements at the firehouse.
Hernandez is excited for what the future holds, as fire-related technological improvements benefit both those in the field as well as at home. This continuing innovation and an emphasis on fire education means a safer environment for the public as well as his fellow firefighters. “I don’t think there will ever be a time when there are no fires, but technology is evolving rapidly,” he says. “We have tools now that guys in the 50s and 60s would have never dreamed of using. So maybe 50 to 100 from now, who knows what firefighting will look like.” With dedicated firefighters like Hernandez and the rest of Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department at the helm, the future looks bright indeed.