WEBER COUNTY(ABC4) – Growing up, Shea Cason had dreams of becoming a firefighter. However, the way life unfolded, his working career began in a retail job he found draining and unfulfilling.
It took a frightening moment as a young father for him to reassess his goals and priorities and ultimately enter the firefighter training program at Davis Technical College.
“I froze, I didn’t know what to do,” Cason tells ABC4. “I had this feeling of fear, of unknowing.”
Those feelings overcame Cason about three years ago when his pregnant wife gave birth to their twins as the couple was making their way to McKay Dee Hospital for the delivery.
With his wife already in labor and having intense contractions, the stressful experience climaxed as Cason was near the hospital on Harrison Blvd. in Ogden.
“We were across the street from Weber State’s campus and she exclaimed, ‘My water broke!’, Cason recalls. “A few seconds later, she again yelled, ‘There’s a baby in my pants.’”
Cason immediately pulled over and sure enough, one of his newborn twins had already been born.
Standing there in shock, Cason says he froze. It took this wife asking him to remove his jacket to make a blanket for the baby for him to come to. At the same time, some Weber State students were making their way to class nearby. Cason shouted at them to call 911 while he attended to his wife, who was minutes away from another birth.
The students called the paramedics and help arrived quickly. One of their first actions was to get the panicking father to a more helpful location on the scene.
“They very strategically kind of brought me out of the way,” he explains with a laugh. When the paramedics showed up, they gave me a job to do. I know now that all of those things are tactics to help me and get me out of the way.”
When the dust settled and the second of the twins was successfully delivered, still in her amniotic sac, which was opened by the paramedics, Cason came to a realization. He was ashamed that he didn’t know how to properly respond in such a critical situation for his family. He felt he had failed his wife.
“I did a lot of soul-searching, you know, being in this retail job. And, you know, really not being happy,” Cason tells ABC4.
Those feelings, combined with the memories he had of wanting to be a firefighter when he was a little boy growing up in Oregon, led him to make a career change.
And after going on a ride-along with a friend who worked as a firefighter in Saratoga Springs, Cason decided to go all-in on becoming a firefighter himself.
He says it was ultimately the right decision for him and his family.
“I decided this was the place for me,” he says, while also commenting that his wife has seen an increase in his happiness.
Becoming a firefighter is a particularly grueling process. Prospective firefighters are pushed mentally, physically, and emotionally. In addition to the strenuous physical nature of the job, there is also an immense amount of bookwork and studying involved.
There are also two branches or disciplines available for interested firemen-to-be: wildland or structure-based training. Those who are in the wildland program are given training in natural fire plumbing, using streams or lakes for water sources, and building fire lines to prevent the flames’ spread in the wilderness.
Structural firefighter training is more on the conventional idea of the profession with knowledge gained in climbing ladders, victim extraction, and hose work.
Both schools of firefighting include basic EMT training and medical certification.
It’s a tough job and can be very stressful for the folks that choose to do it. Sometimes, the trauma of an especially tragic assignment can be hard to deal with for those in the fire station. According to Britt Clark, who works as the deputy chief for the Weber Fire District, the mental health resources available to firefighters have gotten better lately.
“We have a critical incident team that if something happens, if are we on a really bad call, our in-house team will go work with them and we also have professionals that will work with us,” Clark says, while also explaining that recently passed legislature has been instrumental in providing that care to firefighters.
Still, despite the challenges, both Clark, a seasoned veteran, and Cason, who is about halfway through his training, say “it’s the best job in the world,” thanks in large part to the connectivity between fellow firemen and women.
“I mean, just being in class, it’s hard work, and when you are working hard shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals, you definitely build up that camaraderie,” Cason says. “The fire department is a family within itself.”