By UFA Battalion Chief Wade Watkins
Why do some people want to serve the community as a first responder? Presently the reality consists of challenging circumstances to say the least. The challenges professionally include pandemic, earthquake, fire and limitless hazards. The impacts on someone’s personal reality include sleep deprivation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and lengthy time away from loved ones with minimal monetary gain.
Nevertheless, we consistently have incredible people with the drive to pursue this endeavor. I am impressed with the intensity and desire of the next generation of first responders. The story below is the personal journey of one of Riverton’s own, Josh Gehrke. Raised by a firefighter, he has gained perspective on service, community and hard work.
“Ever since I was a child, I looked up to my dad and the honorable work that he did as a firefighter. I cherished being able to visit him at the fire station; these visits sparked the desire for me to become a firefighter. These experiences inspired me to carry on the family legacy by becoming a third-generation firefighter. A specific experience I had when I was sixteen made this desire even stronger. I went on a youth trek with the members of my church and local community. During the trek, we had heavy rainfall that we were not prepared for. As a result, many of the youth were panicking and becoming restless. The decision was made that everyone should be evacuated to a nearby farm to take shelter. Because of what I was taught growing up, I was able to assist with the evacuation and organization of the youth. I also tried to help keep people calm and in good spirits. Afterwards, the leaders thanked me for my efforts, and that made me more motivated to follow my dad’s example.
Growing up on the shoulders of heroes instilled in me a service-oriented mindset and a motivation to improve my community. I have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and make the world around me a better place. Being in a position to save lives and help people in crisis would be the ideal career for me. Going forward in my life, I want to be involved in work that I am proud of and that allows me to protect those I love as well as the people I serve. Being a firefighter or first responder would give me the skillset to assist with emergencies in which I would otherwise be helpless. Other benefits would be the ability to make a difference in life and death situations, career growth, and the means to support my family and myself. With all the panic and fear in the world, especially right now, I want to know that my family will be taken care of, and that I will be someone capable of keeping them as safe as I can.”
I find Josh’s personal journey motivating and refreshing. On a professional and personal level, I am so incredibly happy for the next generation of first responders and the community we serve. Having extraordinary people step up during these challenging times is awe-inspiring. We can all make a difference and remember staying prepared to keep your family and community safe and healthy is everyone’s responsibility.