Turning up the heat



This is a continuing series about people’s first experiences doing things they’ve never done



Nervous. Excited. Terrified.

Those are the emotions GTA firefighter Dan Burley felt his first time responding to a fire 14 years ago.

“My first fire I just remember looking at the guy next to me and saying, ‘What do I do? Tell me what to do,’” Burley said. “You’re just so unsure about everything you do.”

Burley explained that on their first call, new firefighters are told what to do by senior firefighters.

“You literally do as you’re told: don’t speak, don’t ask questions,” he said. “When you’re going to that first call, you know that you’re looking to that guy beside you and you’re just doing what he says. You can cope because you only have one task: listen.”

During training, firefighters participate in “live burns” that are supposed to simulate the real thing, but Burley said one thing he never expected on his first call was the lack of control, which is “what makes the whole thing so scary.”

Despite the fear, Burley said he loves his job.

“You never know when you show up to work what’s going to happen,”
he said. “Every day is a surprise, and that’s awesome.”

Burley was 26 years old when he responded to his first fire. He said it has become easier over the years, but a problem many veteran firefighters face is complacency.

“You run the same calls over and over again and you think you know what the outcome will be and you become really confident. That’s when things happen; guys get hurt, people die,” he said. “You need to be reminded that every call is like the first, and you need to take all the precautions.”

Before becoming a firefighter, Burley was a paramedic for two years. He said going from being a paramedic to a firefighter was surprisingly different.

“It’s all blood pressure, numbers, protocols. There’s so much stuff going on that they actually teach you to slow down,” he said. “[Paramedics] are so much more thoughtful in what they do, where with the fire department it’s just ‘go and break windows’ and there’s so much more urgency. When you arrive on scene, it is chaos and our job is to put in some kind of control to the situation.”

As a firefighter, Burley said he also faces the threat of death every day. He goes to work every day thinking that it could be his last day. According to the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, more than 1,000 firefighters have died in the line of duty since 1848.

Despite this, Burley said it never stops him from doing his job.

“You know that you’re going to get there and someone’s going to call and ask for your help,” he said.

“[Thinking about dying] doesn’t scare me because I know it would
be for a good cause.”