Michigan Firefighter: I have the best job in the world

Michigan Firefighter: I have the best job in the world

My name is Josh Dettwiler, I am 44 years old and I was born and raised in Traverse City, Michigan. In 1997, I moved to Grand Rapids and now I currently live in Comstock Park, MI with my wife Amy and 2 kids. I am a Lieutenant for Cascade Township Fire Department. Cascade Fire is a full-time department with 12 fire suppression personnel, 3 Lieutenants, 3 Captains, Fire Marshal, Fire Inspector and Chief. We cover 35 sq miles and run approximately 2,300 calls for emergency service a year out of two stations. We have 3 shifts (A, B, C) that work in 24 hour shifts and I am the Lieutenant for the C shift. 

Every little person wants to be a policeman or a firefighter or an astronaut. Did you always want to be a firefighter? 

No, I didn’t but, I feel incredibly fortunate to have this as my career. Being a firefighter is the best job in the world. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. As a child I always thought I would grow up to be a supercross star! As I got older I knew I wanted to work with my hands and be active. I was a carpenter for many years until the economy took a turn forcing me to rethink my career path. I became an EMT-B and worked for a local ambulance company before turning to fire. I went through the fire academy and became a paid on call firefighter. With a lot of hard work and persistence I landed a full- me fire job with Cascade Township. 

Do you have any advice for the kids out there who are dreaming of being a firefighter when they grow up? 

Absolutely, never give up! Some departments have a cadet program for high schoolers which will allow you to spend time at the department and attend training. Volunteer as a paid on call firefighter when you turn 18. It always helps to have a medical license as well. This too, can be done while in high school. The most important advice I can give is to never quit learning. This profession is one that you have to be on top of your game both physically and mentally and everyday presents a new challenge.

What does a day at work normally look like for you? 

Our first priority is to take care of our community by responding to any call for emergency service. Every call is unique with its own challenges. There is no fire, car accident or medical call that is the same. To be at our best for our township we train on every shift. My shift starts at 0745am and ends at 0800am the next day (24.25 hrs). Typically, at 0800 we do our vehicle checks, including checking all air packs, testing the lights and sirens, pumping water and inspecting the tools. Around 1000 we will have a shift training that involves using the engines or some of the tools off the engine. Some days are medical training or technical rescue training. We take an hour lunch. In the afternoon we will work out with weights or do cardio. We are required to work out 1 hour a day while on shift to stay in shape. The afternoon will always involve cleaning the stations. We mow the lawn, snow plow and do maintenance. We also have online training that will be done in the afternoons. At 1730 we had me down. I use this to catch up on emails and other projects I have from the Chief. The rest of the evening is our me. We eat dinner together and relax. 

How has your work day changed due to the current state of Covid-19? 

Covid-19 has definitely changed the fire service like it has for many businesses. We get new protocols daily from the County Emergency Management team. We can no longer have full department training, where the whole department would get together to train at night. We do a lot of public events that are currently suspended. Even the way we run calls has changed. We now wear surgical masks on every call along with safety glasses, gloves and gowns. After a suspected Covid call we sanitize our vehicles, take showers and wash our clothes. All departments now have to have a process that shows their employees are healthy to work their shift. We take our temp, and vitals before every shift to assure we don’t have a fever. We also limit the number of responders going into houses for medical calls. My biggest fear is bringing something home to my family. 

What style of riding do you do and what do you like about it? 

I ride mostly singletrack, but I do enjoy riding at the skills park as well. I enjoy single track because of how peaceful the woods can be. Being a career firefighter definitely comes with a down side. Not every call is a call that you easily forget or move on from. Riding my bike is a way to destress after a difficult call or shift. I also enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to become faster and smoother on every ride. I also ride a fat bike in the winter as well for the same reasons. I am fortunate to live in West Michigan where there are numerous options of different trails to ride. 

What got you into riding the bike, when did this begin, and what does the bike add to your life? 

I have always had a bike of some sort from the time I was old enough to ride one. Bicycles turned into motocross in my teens and then back to bikes after I got married. Mountain biking was a way to connect with friends in my early 20’s. I took a little break after my second child and then decided to race BMX at age 40 with my 6 yr old. At 44 I’m back into mountain biking and enjoying the occasional race and riding with my family and friends. Mountain biking adds quality to me with my family. It adds a challenge to become faster, jump higher and farther. It connects me with friends that enjoy the same challenges and can push me to become one. Most importantly, it gives me a way to decompress from a stressful job and clear my mind so that I can be the best firefighter I can be. 

Can you tell us what bike you ride, if you’ve tricked it out and what one bike bit you are wishing you had? 

During the summer months I ride a Rocky Mountain Pipeline full suspension bike and during the winter months I ride a full suspension Salsa Bucksaw. I have upgraded the drivetrain on the Pipeline, otherwise everything is stock. I would love to have carbon rims to drop a couple pounds if I was going to upgrade. 

Where is the one place you dream of riding when all of the travel restrictions are lifted and you can ride one off your bucket list? 

I have started to really enjoy riding bike parks and would head to Whistler for the true downhill experience. 

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