Fulfilling his career dreams

When Fort Dodge firefighter Eric Conell arrived for his first shift at the firehouse in 2012 he fulfilled a childhood dream.

“As long as I can remember, it’s pretty much all I wanted to be,” he said of becoming a firefighter. ”Every kid wants to be one, but I kept pursuing it.”

Conell acknowledges that being a firefighter is dangerous and forces him to deal with situations in which bad things happen to good people. Still, it remains his dream job.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s the best job in the world.”

He started his Fire Department career on May 15, 2012.

His first response was to a medical emergency at Friendship Haven.

Days later, during the third shift he worked as a firefighter, a house fire was reported in the Coleman District.

The fire was burning in the ceiling of the house, and Conell had to use a hook on a long pole to rip down the ceiling so that the firefighters with the hoseline could get a stream of water onto the flames. When his work was done, Conell emerged from the house with big clumps of insulation clinging to his helmet, breathing apparatus and protective clothing.

That was the first structure fire to which he responded. There have been others since, including a house fire that Conell, who was off-duty, was called back to work at in the early morning hours of Jan. 6.

Conell is certified as a firefighter I and hazardous materials technician. He is also certified in aircraft rescue and firefighting.

He’s continuing his professional education by pursuing an associate’s degree in fire science from Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge and completing paramedic training.

He volunteered to serve on the regional hazardous materials response team operated by the Fire Department.

And he’s one of three firefighters on his shift who is trained in aircraft rescue and firefighting. Those firefighters take turns providing the required emergency standby service at Fort Dodge Regional Airport when Great Lakes Airlines planes are coming and going at night and on weekends. Airport maintenance workers cross-trained as firefighters handle the standby service during weekdays.

Fort Dodge firefighters work 24-hour shifts that begin at 7 a.m. and end at 7 a.m. the next day. Conell said when he’s on duty, he gets to the firehouse at about 6:30 a.m. The firefighters know in advance what truck or ambulance they will be assigned to, so the first thing Conell does when he arrives is to collect his protective gear, place it by the assigned unit and take the gear of the firefighter he’s replacing back to the storage room. Once that gear transfer is made, the other firefighter is off-duty and Conell is on duty.

There’s not much idle time once a firefighter is on duty, according to Conell. Right away, he said, some firefighters inspect the trucks while others clean the building. From 9 to 11 a.m., daily there is a training session, and Conell said sometimes building inspections are conducted during that time. More training takes place from 1 to 3 p.m., then there’s a workout period so that the firefighters can stay in shape. Conell said at 4:30 p.m. every day there is a truck maintenance session. There’s no more assigned chores or training after 5 p.m.

That daily routine is interrupted frequently by the blaring sound of an alert tone on the Fire Department radio as emergency calls are dispatched.

“We stay busy around here,” Conell said. “Days go pretty quick.”

He is a Fort Dodge native who graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High School in 2008. He did construction work before becoming a firefighter.