After 5 p.m., there’s not much to do at Fire Station 5 at 1400 Ballenger Lane.
Three men — Lt. Travis Gregory, Fire Engineer Dennis Long and probationary firefighter J.E. Hatfield of the Columbia Fire Department — will spend their evening together, alternately sitting in the kitchen telling stories of past pranks, watching TV in the living room or sleeping in the dormitory-style bedroom, all the time waiting for an alarm to jolt them out of their rest and into the firetruck.
Hatfield, a probationary firefighter, has six more months to go before he can trade in his yellow rookie hat for the red hat of an official firefighter. Sitting on the firetruck’s front bumper watching cars go by in the semi-darkness, Hatfield says that all the stations he’s worked for during this probationary rotation are different from one another.
“Each station has a personality,” Hatfield says. “Some are quieter, some are lots of fun.”
Hatfield is quick to shrug off any notoriety the job might give him.
“I don’t want to be known as some kind of a hero. I want to come to work and do my job, the best way I can do it. I’d like to own a farm someday. Right now, I’m pretty much doing what I want to do,” he said.
Gregory is in charge of monitoring calls as they come in. As he settles on the couch to watch some TV, he says, “It sure is quiet tonight.”
In moments, the familiar alarm and noise of the printer starts; the firemen rush to put on their suits, which have been waiting next to the truck all evening.
“It’s like that,” says Gregory as they return to the station after a routine traffic accident. “Quiet, and then bam, and then quiet again.”