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Pope Fire Department trains for more than just fighting fires

  • Published
  • By Emily Smith
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When one thinks of firefighters, the normal images that come to mind are burly men fighting fires day in and day out. While they might see the occasional house fire, the truth of the matter is that firefighters spend a lot more time training for other real-world scenarios. The firefighters of the Pope Fire Department are no different. They are truly multi-faceted. 

All Pope fire fighters are trained in fire safety and rescue, handling hazardous materials, managing structural damage, in underwater missions and assisting medics on regular calls and in aircraft emergencies. In addition to all of that training, Pope Fire Department provides a mutual aid to all Fort Bragg and Cumberland County fire departments. When a call goes out to a Fayetteville Fire Department and they need assistance, Pope is called to action and vice-versa. 

"If they needed help, we helped them. If we needed help, they came to us," said former Assistant Fire Chief James "Papa Bear" Mason. 

Mr. Mason had worked at the fire department for nearly 38 years before retiring this past week. He had seen it all. "You spend a lot of time there," he said. 

Shifts are worked on a 24-hour cycle. A firefighter works 24 hours then is off 24 hours, even through holidays and down days. When they're on duty, they cannot leave the premises for the entire 24 hours, so the station is like a second home. 

"What most people don't realize is that we spend more time here than we do at our actual homes," said Staff Sgt. Eric Schmedicke. "That's why we have a fully functioning kitchen, living room with recliners and a TV, dorm-style bedrooms and our own weight room. 

"We have to maintain Air Force physical training standards as well as fire department standards. That's why we have our own weight room. Sometimes you'll see men running around the building. It's not because something is wrong; it's because we have to maintain PT standards but we're not allowed to leave," Sergeant Schmedicke explained. 

The station houses their own 911 call center where they dispatch all their own trucks. When a call on Pope is made it is usually because there are signs of a fire. What is unique about Pope is that all the buildings are specially fitted with automatic alarms. If there are signs of a fire (smoke in a room, gas leaks or even steam from a shower), an automatic alarm sounds at the fire station notifying them of a potential call. In a way, Pope firefighters are one step ahead of the game. 

Another aspect of a firefighter's life that people may not realize is that they deploy for four to six months in six-man teams. "It takes three people to man a fire truck," Sergeant Schmedicke said. "You have to have enough men to cover both shifts, so at least six people have to deploy at a time. You'll never hear of one or two firefighters deploying." 

The firefighters at the Pope Fire Department stress that if you see signs of a fire, get out of the building and call 911. Pamphlets and educational material can be obtained by contacting the Pope Fire Department's non-emergency line at 394-2464.