There isn’t much mystery around the job of a firefighter, nor is there room for fuss or frippery. A constant step away from the ugly side of life, they live on the edge, ready for action. They breathe life and death, daily. And sometimes they do some cat rescuing, too.
“There is a lot of traffic during the day,” Inspector Jóhann Viggo Jónsson tells me as he shows me around the station. “At night it’s more comfortable, though. It’s just us and it’s a bit like a family. We don’t have to behave well unless we have guests!” He seems to be everything you would want from a man in his position. He doesn’t shy away from a joke, but he’s also calm and firm when he needs. I can easily imagine his 26 years of experience come in handy in difficult situations.
Ready for action
Fire fighters in Iceland are forwarded most help calls that reach the emergency line. They take care of water leaks as well as traffic accidents and broken bones. “Whatever happens people always call us first,” fellow firefighter Hlynur Höskuldsson bellows from behind the fence of computers on his desk. Currently working as a middleman between the emergency line and the office, for the past sixteen years Hlynur has more often than not been down at the ambulances. “Around 80% of the job actually revolves around them,” he adds.
Most nights, however, the team focusses on training. “When you are in a situation of danger you stop thinking. You do what you know,” Jóhann tells me. “So it‘s important for us to train new members as much as possible and make sure their responses become automatic.” In addition to training with the ambulances and fire trucks, fire fighters can take advantage of the machines stationed in the basements. Physicals and endurance tests are their bread and butter and after looking at Dynja Guðlaugsdóttir practicing with the hose in the parking lot there’s really no doubt about it.
Dynja has been a firefighter for only two years but if it weren’t for her fresh face you’d never be able to tell. She pounces at the fire truck with eagerness and precision, rolling the hose out and running towards a tree nearby. A serpent of water bursts out aiming for the sky, tickling the top leaves of the tree before curling up on itself and falling back again. “I had been dreaming about becoming a firefighter or a policeman since I was a little girl but it’s nothing like I thought it would be,” she explains later. “There is a lot of work to do through the ambulances. Like when a colleague and I helped a baby being born on the way to the hospital. That was a fun life experience!”
The good and the bad
Naturally, not everything is as fun as saving lost kittens. To make sure workers don’t fall into a cycle of depression following particularly gruesome accidents, two psychologists work in cooperation with the station and can be reached in case of emergency. “But it’s the team itself that provides the best trauma service,” Jóhann adds paternally. “We sit here with a cup of coffee and talk together.”
“It’s an extremely varied job,” Hlynur echoes him. “A long time ago, before Christmas, there was a massive accident. Three people died. It doesn‘t happen often. But then four days later we ended the shift helping a woman give birth. It’s the perfect example of the ups and downs of our job. It can start in an awful way but then it can also be great fun.” Now, that’s a night shift to remember.