It's all in the fire-fighting family

For five years straight, Doug Slaight got calls to fight fires on the birthday of his son, Brian.

The situation might have been hard on another father's son. But Brian, wanting to be a firefighter himself, handled it fine.

Brian was 5 when Doug joined the Craig Rural Fire Protection District, so he can't remember a time when his dad didn't fight fires.

Now, they both work for the fire district, the first father-son fire fighting duo in Craig in recent memory.

The firefighters are divided into two battalions, and Doug and Brian serve on different battalions. That means they don't go out on the same calls very often. But for major incidents, such as large structure fires, vehicle extractions and Haz-Mat calls, both battalions go out.

Doug drives a truck, and Brian works on an entry team, extinguishing fires.

"Most of the time, it's not even until the incident is over I realize he's out there," Doug said.

Brian joined the fire district as a cadet when he was 14.

As a cadet, he came to all the fire district functions and provided support on some calls. Support activities included rolling hose and changing air bottles. Brian described the position as an "errand boy," but the jobs are vitally important, Doug said.

Three years ago, Brian joined the district as a firefighter. Rookies traditionally have it rough. They clean the sumps and do the grunt work.

"They're pretty lowlifes," Doug said.

But being a rookie isn't as hard as it was when Doug started. In 1986, Doug said, the rookies did all the grunt work. Now, it's more of a team effort.

Both Slaights have been around long enough to see many changes at the district.

When Doug started, the firefighters received no formal training. Since then, training requirements have changed dramatically.

"You learn right away it's not so simple to put out a fire," he said.

Firefighters are certified by the state, and many of them also are certified as emergency medical technicians.

The technology is new, too. Firefighters can put out flames with foam instead of water.

Communications have improved, and they have infrared cameras.

But new dangers exist, too.

"There's so many more hazards out there," Brian said.

Buildings are constructed of lightweight steel, so they collapse easier.

The plastic in cars burns with toxic smoke.

Airbags can explode unexpectedly, and high-impact bumpers can blast off of vehicles.

Brian works on the scrubber at Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

The scrubber cleans the gas from the coal the plant burns; it's part of the pollution control system.

He can answer calls only when he's not at work, unless the call is at Tri-State.

Doug is retired from the Colorado Department of Transportation, so he can answer most calls.

Doug and Brian have another family member in the department, too. Working as secretary, Vicki Slaight is the fire district's only full-time employee.

Has Vicki thought about joining her husband and son fighting fires?

"No comment," she said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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