Without a doubt, firefighters have one of the coolest jobs around. But when they’re not saving people from burning buildings, they’re telling stories about all the whacky stuff they’ve encountered over the years, from tropical birds stuck in trees, to mysterious bush fire clowns, to sarcastic power line employees.
As these firefighters and other sources revealed on Reddit and in an insider forum, being a firefighter often involves a lot more patience and open-mindedness than it does bravery.
I just started working as a volunteer firefighter, and yesterday I got my first call, an active house fire. As we arrived on scene, I had my mask on and my air tank at the ready, heroic thoughts running through my head. Without even looking at the house, I hop out, attach my air tank, and rush towards the door. As I do, my buddy shouts, “Take that stuff off, you look ridiculous.” I turn around and see that my fire chief is rolling on the ground, crying from laughter. It was a tiny fire in the grease pan in the middle of the kitchen. The other firefighters haven’t stopped joking about it.
I am a former firefighter and we had no shortage of ridiculous calls. One was from an elderly man, who called us to check out his house for a strange smell in the middle of the night. We show up and walk in and see the problem right away. This dude had strands of garlic cloves hanging from every square inch of ceiling space he had in the kitchen and dining room. Like a ridiculous amount of garlic.
My father-in-law was a firefighter and, I kid you not, he once got a call about a cat stuck in a tree.
I have to listen to 911 dispatch in the California and Nevada area for work, and I’ve heard a few brilliant soundbites from firefighters over the years.
Once, I heard a firefighter yell to his colleague, “I can’t read and drive at the same time,” and another firefighter responded, “You can barely drive at all.”
Another time, a firefighter wrapped up a radio call with his buddy and signed off, “You complete me.”
My former art teacher used to work in the forest service, and would tell us stories about wild stuff that happened. This was his best story.
He was with other firefighters out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona, fighting a forest fire. There wasn’t any real danger to civilians because of how remote this location was. As they worked their way through the brush, in the distance they saw a figure, a brightly-colored figure walking calmly through the forest. As they squinted and started to walk towards the figure, they started to make out his painted face, with a red ball on his nose, and they realized he was a clown. This is in the middle of nowhere, with no camp grounds, no houses for miles. He had nothing on him (at least nothing visible, and no survival bag). He was just walking alone in the middle of the forest.
When they started to get closer, still fighting through the brush, the clown saw he was being followed and disappeared into the trees. As far as my art teacher knew, he was never seen again.
I’m a volunteer firefighter in the UK. We were called recently to a hay bale fire in a field. We were first on the scene, but couldn’t see any fire. We called the person who reported the fire and asked her to tell us where the fire was. She explained she hadn’t seen actual flames, but did see “some odd lights in the sky,” which she had assumed were UFOs. It turned out she just wanted us to come and take a look because she was terrified.
During a snowstorm, a state of emergency was called and I was one of 3 guys who had to stay at the firehouse for 3 days straight. We got no sleep, and had to go out for everything you could think of. Opening dwellings, towing ambulances, all kinds of stuff. One day, it’s hailing outside but we get a call from a woman who had a stomach ache. I’m fine with that, it’s part of the job. But when we get there, she’s lying on her couch and the room is full of smoke. She tells us the reason for her stomach ache was that she had smoked some bad marijuana. So there we are, shovelling her sidewalk to get a gurney into her house and getting smacked on the helmet with hail the size of golf balls, all because she had decided it was a good time to buy discounted pot.
A few months ago, a call went out for 2 fire stations’ medic units and the county rescue squad to respond for traumatic injuries, or something like that. One station sent an engine and squad en route and the second station sent another engine. A few minutes later, dispatch comes back on the radio and lets us know the person in distress. A cat was stuck behind an arcade game console and the owner of the arcade couldn’t move it. So his solution was to call 911.
While listening to 911 dispatch, I once heard a bunch of firefighters singing “Happy Birthday” to another firefighter over the radio.
Our fire station got a call at 11:30pm from a woman about 3 kilometres away who said her house was on fire. We rolled out immediately, piling into the firetruck, with 10 more of us in our crew van. When we got there, there was no fire. Instead, the woman told us her dog was trapped under its doghouse. She admitted she had said her house was on fire because she didn’t think we would come for the dog! Of course we would have…
This is something that happens at every BIG fire. I have A LOT of trouble aiming the deck gun on our tanker at the “target.” Seeing that it creates a large “fog” of water, I can’t actually see where the water stream ends. So I have a reputation of “taking out” several groups of firefighters with one sweep of the stream. At a recent barn fire, I knocked a hose team down twice, and soaked 20-30 firefighters, and a whole bunch of bystanders too. The fire chief was not happy…
I’m part of a volunteer fire department out in the boonies. You bet we get some weird calls! Sure, we have all had the cat stuck in a tree, but have you ever had a dog’s head stuck in a hole in a tree? A very large woman stuck in the mud? Parachuters stuck in a tree? Someone stuck on a toilet? A lot of folks gettin’ stuck these days!
We got a call from dispatch with the code for an “invasive bodily injury.” We show up on scene expecting to see someone impaled and it turns out to be a little boy who had somehow jammed a rubber ball up his nose. It was removed smoothly with the help of some forceps. Everything is okay now, but mom was sure worried.
Once had to rescue a guy who got stuck at the top of a tree trying to rescue his own kitten. The best part was my colleague who was there rubbing it in, shouting up to the guy, “Cats don’t get stuck in trees, people do!”
About 14 years ago, shortly after I was hired, my squad was woken up at about 3:00 am for a mobile home fire. I had to pee like a race horse, but not wanting to waste a second, I jumped on the squad truck and off we went.
A few minutes after we arrived, we had extinguished the fire, but the trailer was still full of smoke. I had to pee so bad, I could no longer function…I was about to explode! I stumbled into a bathroom and aimed for the broken remains of a toilet bowl. Suddenly, the wind shifted, and the air cleared, revealing that the wall behind the toilet had burned away. Outside the trailer, about a dozen onlookers were pointing at me, chuckling and even applauding. Good thing we’re all fairly anonymous in full gear and a mask! To this day, nobody knows it was me.
My squad was once sent to rescue a bird stuck in a tree. Yes, you read that right. The family had decided against clipping the wings of their $1000 tropical bird because they didn’t feel it was ethical, and one day the bird flew out the door and into a tree. When we arrived at the scene, another squad had set up ladders on two separate trees, with a cadet desparately chasing the bird as it flew back and forth between them. We ended up shooting a large stream in a fog pattern above the bird, and after about five minutes it got wet and glided safely to the ground.
We got a dispatch at 3:00 am for a fire alarm activation. As is usually the case, there was no obvious sign of a problem when we first arrived. That is, until we saw a man running out the front door with a TV! Turns out that the alarm company erroneously reported a burglar alarm as a fire alarm. Imagine his surprise! Luckily, police arrived at the same time and caught the thief before he could get away.
Our dispatch got a call from a lady in her sixties who said she couldn’t breath through her nose, and thought there might be smoke in the building. When we get there, sure enough she is sitting there with a box of tissues and lots of nasal stuff. She said she couldn’t breath through her nose. We told her the only thing we could do was send her to the hospital, but she didn’t want to go, so we left. Definitely the silliest call I’ve had to date.
While listening to 911 dispatch in Reno, Nevada, someone called to report a man walking around with his beard on fire in the middle of downtown Reno. Someone else called about him too, but I don’t think he was ever found.
I was a Fire Department volunteer on a tiny island off the coast of Northern Ohio in Lake Erie for six years. One time, a fellow had his boat go up in flames, but instead of jumping ship and letting the boat burn through he actually thought that docking his boat at the wooden port was a good idea. Not only that, but he was trying to pull up to the GAS STATION DOCK. Everyone is trying to wave him away but he’s just yelling, “I can’t hear you, let me come closer!” Thankfully, we extinguished the fire before anything happened and we can all laugh about it today.
It was around 2:00 pm when Fire & EMS were called, with the dispatcher reporting a “motor vehicle incident, 3-year-old girl hit by truck with injuries.”
I was already preparing for the worst case scenario as we headed over. Upon arriving on the scene, I saw a little girl crying but visibly unharmed and a woman who appeared to be her mother pressing a paper towel to the girl’s forehead. I asked what happened, and the mother said, “Her older brother threw a truck at her and hit her in the head and she was bleeding.” Turns out it was a little matchbox truck that the 3-year-old old was hit with.
The other day there were 45-60 m.p.h. winds here. A call came over the radio dispatching fire and EMS to a man who had “fallen while parachuting.”
Turns out, because it was so windy, the guy thought he could use the same theory as parasailing, using the wind to lift him up. And believe it or not, he was right. He tied himself to a tree via a long rope and strapped the parachute on, and up he went. He was around 150 feet up when the rope snapped off the tree. His parachute went haywire and collapsed, and down he went.
We were being dispatched for a 14 year old male in distress. That’s dispatcher speak for “we have no idea what the situation is.” When we pulled up we were waved down by a friend of our patient. We walked into the apartment and found our patient. He was sitting on the couch watching TV, and looked to be in zero distress. I asked him why he had called 911.
He said with a grin, and I quote, “I was just bored.”
My father has worked for many years as a 911 dispatcher. He once had a woman call 911 to ask if it was legal for her to take her American flag down from her front yard because squirrels were chewing on it. He, somewhat stunned, confirmed that it was her flag on her property, that it was of course fine to take down.
I’m a volunteer firefighter in south Texas, and one of my most hilarious experiences happened a few months ago. We were backing up the main firefighting team while they put out two small grassfires on a patch of farmland.
My Lieutenant and I are standing next to the truck, waiting to get called in, when we see a guy from the main team barreling towards us around the front of the vehicle, yelling “Climb up! Get off the ground!” We don’t question him and almost vault on top of our truck, thinking it could be a rush of flames. I look over the side, not knowing what to expect, and see a wild pig running towards the truck. She hits the side of the truck, bounces back a little, snorts, and then runs off into the brush. Then a pack of piglets run after her, following deeper in. We look at the firefighter, and he just shrugs and goes, “She charged me.” We all just burst into laughter at how ridiculous it all was.
A few years back, the Northeast got hit hard by an ice storm, and we were dispatched to a residential street where the power lines had been knocked down. When we arrived, we blocked off the street so as to keep residents away from the downed power line. One resident who wanted to leave started very vocally expressing her displeasure with us.
At that point, another resident came out to see what all the commotion was about. We told him of the downed power line that could still be electrified, at which point he walked over to the power line, picked it up, and calmly moved it out of the way. We stood there, stunned, until he told us he had worked as a line repair technician for over 40 years and recognized immediately that it was a dead line.
Once, a guy from a neighbouring fire department tried to use the hook on his truck to move a downed power line because it was taking the electric company too long to get there. Once he had accidentally touched the electrified hook and shocked himself, he decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
We got a call around 5:00 in the morning for a possible gas leak, someone claiming they had seen a dead body in front of a house. Before we could arrive, the police officer cancelled us.
Later that day, I was so curious about what had happened that I went to the address in my civilian clothing. I arrived, walked up to the front door and saw what appeared to be an elderly female sitting up against the side of the house with her head slumped over, and people standing around chatting. The “dead body” was just a very realistic Halloween decoration that someone had made. Some neighborhood kids thought it would be funny to drop it on someone else’s porch and freak them out.
Someone once called 911 dispatch to report a “swimming pool on fire.” I have no idea how a swimming pool sets on fire, but that’s what they said.
I was in the grocery store yesterday after work, still in uniform. While I was walking down an aisle, a little girl who was passing by me asked if I was with the police department, since I have a similar uniform. I told her I was with the fire service, and guess what she did?
She ran over and gave me a great big HUG and a thank you for “all the work you do.” That kind of thing makes it all feel worth it at the end of the day.
A big thank you to all the firefighters out there. We appreciate all you do, and we hope you’ll keep sharing your stories!
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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. These responses have been edited for clarity.