Blazing

Firefighters at the state convention held in Craig share their reasons for why they do what they do

The day was windy, gray and threatening rain but that did not deter the delegates of the state fire-fighting convention from their fun and games that underlined the serious nature of their business.

The fire departments, which came from all over the state, competed in a variety of activities Friday. It was a time in which the brave men and women of Colorado's fire-fighting forces could relax, throw back and have a little fun. Here are three stories from some of Colorado's finest.

Rich Pula

"I started preparing for college and I was sucked into the whole working-for-a-living thing. You don't make a living in fire," said Rich Pula, who took a 40-percent pay cut to make fire fighting his full-time job.

Pula, who is a man of medium height and dark hair streaked with gray, has been a volunteer firefighter for three years and a paid firefighter for one.

"I considered seeking fire fighting as a career but I wanted to see what it was about -- see if I had the ability to do the job," he said.

Pula said the volunteer system is a program in which one can start off slower.

Pula is from Edgewater where he volunteers and has only been in Colorado for about three years. Edgewater is six-tenths of a square mile and is located outside of Denver.

"I moved here so that my wife could pursue her education," said the firefighter, who hopes to move back the San Diego area where he previously lived for 15 years.

Two things that the 32-year-old firefighter loves about his job are the camaraderie that exists between firefighters and how children respect them.

"We go to kids birthdays and stuff, it's great," Pula said.

Along with what he sees as the positive of aspects of fire fighting, Pula observes that in his experience support, particularly in the financial arena, has plummeted because of hard economic times.

"My wife in particular doesn't like the idea that I could be hurt at any particular time but she knows it is what I want to do," said Pula, who has no children.

The running team contest is Pula's favorite part of the conference.

"I mainly came for the running team competition but there are really good fire-fighting classes."

According to Pula, firefighters come to the conference with a group of firefighters that they live with and are close to and then build camaraderie with other departments.

"In Edgewater, we go and help the Wheatridge department who are our neighbors," and the conference helps with that, Pula said.

"If you had of asked me anytime when I was four to 12 years old, I would have said I wanted to be a firefighter. This is what I am happy doing."

Greg Kier

"I am the old man on the team," said Greg Kier, 40, who has been fighting fires for 14 years.

"I have been coming to this conference for 12 years and you get to be friends with them (other firefighters). It's almost like a reunion," Kier said about why he likes to attend the state conference.

Kier, a tall man with close-cut red hair, is from Lafayette, Colo., a town about seven miles from Boulder. He has two uncles and two cousins who have been involved with fire fighting in Denver.

"They (Craig firefighters) have been great hosts," Kier said. "They treat everyone really nice, the high school has good facilities, high marks for everything," Kier said.

For the last ten years, Kier said the biggest improvement in fire-fighting techniques is the use of more foam.

"Foam makes water wetter. It penetrates the wood and gets to the heat quicker," Kier said.

Kier, a volunteer, is a computer programmer with Level 3 Communications where he works 40 hours a week.

"It is good because we have shifts at our fire house, I work evenings and weekends," Kier said.

Although it is hard when people suffer from a fire, it brings the fire department together to have to deal with it, according to Kier. He likens it to a fighter jet pilot who trains and trains and then, when he finally gets to do what he has trained to do, it isn't a pleasant situation but there is a sense of purpose.

"I like to be involved," Kier said "I like to be where the action is."

Scott Griffith

"My best friend talked me into it," said Scott Griffith of his decision to become a firefighter. "It's one of the best things I ever did."

Griffith, a 38-year-old firefighter with piercing blue eyes who wears a ball cap from Fort Morgan, has been a volunteer for 14 years. He works 40 hours a week as a mechanic for Western Sugar Cooperative.

"We have to do 36 hours of training a year (for the fire department) and respond whenever you can on calls," Griffith said.

The one-man coupler is the event that Griffith likes the most during the conference.

He has been to Craig two times and thinks that it is a nice place.

The firefighter sees a benefit in the events of the state convention because people who work in his firehouse perform better together when they participate and train for these events.

Griffith's girlfriend is "pretty supportive and that is what you need."

He said that the level of respect for firefighters has risen in the last few years.

"I think that people finally realized (after Sept. 11, 2001) what (firefighters) do everyday, what they risk."

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