Filed under City

Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

Firefighters+Paul+Bernard%2C+Gabe+Achondo%2C+and+Trevor+Mollenkopf+standing+in+front+of+one+of+the+fire+engines+at+Station+51+with+writer+Jackson+Sell.+Wonderful+photography+by+Gabe+Williams.
Firefighters Paul Bernard, Gabe Achondo, and Trevor Mollenkopf standing in front of one of the fire engines at Station 51 with writer Jackson Sell. Wonderful photography by Gabe Williams.

Firefighters Paul Bernard, Gabe Achondo, and Trevor Mollenkopf standing in front of one of the fire engines at Station 51 with writer Jackson Sell. Wonderful photography by Gabe Williams.

Firefighters Paul Bernard, Gabe Achondo, and Trevor Mollenkopf standing in front of one of the fire engines at Station 51 with writer Jackson Sell. Wonderful photography by Gabe Williams.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






“Everyday is somebody’s worst day,” said Trevor Mollenkopf, a firefighter and paramedic of San Rafael Fire Station 51. He didn’t say it lightly, but rather with a professional seriousness and hint of heartache. I could see in his eyes the amount of tragedy he had seen. It was also evident in the faces of the two other on-duty firefighters, Sam Achondo and Gabe Williams, who were sitting in the fire station kitchen with me. However, there was something else in the countenance of these three men: they absolutely love their job.

These men are constantly tasked with helping people through some of life’s worst situations, yet they are some of the most upbeat and optimistic people I have met. As I ask questions, they crack jokes, tell stories, and smile the whole time. They are all eager to share their stories and their love for the job fills the room.

“It’s a ton of fun; we have a blast all the time,” said Mollenkopf. “We see some crazy stuff and it’s totally messed up sometimes… You know, I wish those things didn’t happen to people, but it’s cool that we get to show up when they do.” Little did they know that 10 minutes after I left, they would be called on a medical aid mission for a choking victim that ultimately turned into a fatal cardiac arrest.

And that’s just the way it is at San Rafael Fire Station 51.

“I kind of tell people that one of my favorite things about the job is I never know what I’m going to do. As long as I have a coffee in the morning, and I bring a lunch with me then you know the day can go one in a million ways,” says Mollenkopf. The fires in the North Bay are a perfect example of this. Mollenkopf came to work that day with his coffee and lunch, and with no clue that that night would be the beginning of the worst fire in California history. “We all showed up and had a pretty chill day and we were chatting over dinner. And then at two in the morning, it hit the fan,” said Mollenkopf.

Working 48-hour shifts, these firefighters have to be prepared for absolutely anything at any time. Anytime 9-1-1 is dialed in San Rafael, these men are the ones who respond. It could be anything from a medical aid for someone with a broken leg, to a domestic abuse call, to a house fire. “There is no such thing as an average day,” said Achondo. These firefighters are constantly working.

Especially with the intense fire raging in the North Bay, Mollenkopf and the others have been absolutely hammered with work for the past few weeks. With 61 full-time personnel and six fire engines, the San Rafael Fire Department is certainly well stocked. However, last week, they sent up five engines, and dozens of personnel to aid with the raging fires. And when you add on to that the number of sick and injured people, the number of available personnel in San Rafael begins to dwindle. Both out of curiosity and to emphasize the point, Williams asks Mollenkopf, “How many days have you had off in the last two weeks?”

To which Mollenkopf replied, “almost two.”

Williams had also only taken off two days. And Achondo, who was “slacking”, had only taken off four days. For only two days out of the last fourteen were they allowed to go home, sleep without interruption, and take a break.

But you would never know this by looking at these men. Only smiles and excited energy filled the air, and they carry this friendly and upbeat attitude into their job.

However, these firefighters are not invincible and the job does come with a great deal of stress. Seeing the terrible situations that people face every day can cause a lot of grief. And this grief is often taken home with them. “Telling someone that their husband of 40 years just died and we couldn’t restart their heart, you know that’s a [bad] day for everybody including us,” said Mollenkopf. They all sat there in silence for a moment as though they were silently reflecting on personal experiences. “But then the flipside,” continued Mollenkopf, “is that some days we get to go and deliver a baby and that’s just the opposite end of it… it’s amazing.”

Part of the firefighter’s job is that they are always dealing with somebody’s tragedy; they are always seeing someone experience their worst day ever. And so they focus on the silver linings. Instead of wallowing in the grief, they focus on the lives they have saved and people they have helped.

 

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Brazil Marin’s Missionary Changes Lives One Orphanage at a Time

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    More Than a Piercing

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Let’s Bake Something Sweet

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Joel Eis Is A Man to Remember

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Officer Brickell Works to Protect and Serve in San Rafael

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Local Consignment Shop Spreads Happiness

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    The Book Keeper Sheperds SR Library Into the Future

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Share The Love & The Donuts

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    Ride Along 3 … Kevin Hart and Ice Cube Weren’t Available

  • Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion

    City

    San Rafael’s Very Own No Non-cents Numismatist

Fighting Fire With a Burning Passion