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Recent events illustrate firefighting dangers

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Updated: 7/05/2013 10:35 pm
LEE COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- It's considered one of the most dangerous jobs around, and despite the on-the-job training from years of experience, many firefighters say every situation is potentially life-threatening.

"You try to train, and try to be aware of your surroundings, but there's only so much you can cover," Tupelo Fire Capt. James Cunningham said. "There's always a risk of something you may or may not have seen."

It's a situation every firefighter faces when that person receives the call, Cunningham said.

One firefighter who responded to Friday morning's blaze near Palmetto says the construction of Malone's Fish and Steak House made the structure very risky to enter.

"That structure was a tin structure. Compared to a wood structure, that will vent and let the superheated gases escape," Birmingham Ridge Volunteer Fire Capt. Brooks Green said. "That [tin] one there will hold it in like an oven, for example."

That's why Green said the temperatures inside were so hot, they melted Palmetto Assistant Fire Chief Wally Bruce's face mask and caused serious burns.

In all fairness, Cunningham said the temperature is usually the last thing on his mind when he enters a structure.

"You're planning what your particular job is, whether it's first, second or third engine in. Usually when you set foot in the door, you find out how hot it is," Cunningham said.

The recent deaths of firefighters in Houston, Texas, and Arizona in recent weeks echo that firefighting is a dangerous occupation, but did you know being a volunteer firefighter carries more risk?

Departments like Tupelo, which have stations manned 24 hours a day, typically have a two to five-minute response time, Green said.

"Out in a volunteer department, it can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes' response time. So you're looking at an increase of a fire, you're giving fire that much more time to progress," Green said.

Several firefighters from the county have already reached out to one of their own, Green said.

They've made trips to Jackson to visit Bruce and called his family.

"It shows the heart and compassion behind each and every guy who puts on this coat and helmet," Green said.

That's one of many reasons Green -- who graduated from the state's fire academy in May -- says he and others feel called to do what they do.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports 40 firefighters died in 2012 from on-site, fire-related causes.

On average, the agency says more volunteer firefighters die annually than those who work for full-time departments.
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