On Saturday nights, A.J. Coston doesn’t get a lot of sleep. Usually three or four times a night, a loud bell rings, a red light goes off, and he has to jump out of his bed. That’s because he’s a weekend volunteer firefighter with Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Station 13 in Northern Virginia. During the week, he lives at home with his mom, dad, and sister, and does his main job: going to high school. Coston, a junior captain and firefighter, is 18 years old.

“I always wanted to get into firefighting since I was a little kid watching fire trucks go by,” he says. “One day I was bored and on the Internet, and I found out that Loudoun County offered a junior firefighter program.” He was only 16, but he was hooked.

A hard-working student, he managed to go to high school, do his homework, and fit in 160 hours of firefighting class on top of it all. He went to class from 7:00 to 10:30 two nights a week and all day Saturday for months.

Fighting fires is dangerous work. Firefighters never stop practicing the skills they need to stay safe. Once Coston learned those skills, he was allowed to work inside burning buildings.
But not before grabbing all his gear. Coston says he wears firefighting boots (rubber or leather with a steel plate), turnout pants (fire pants), a turnout coat, a hood to protect his neck and head, a helmet, and an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus), which includes a mask, air bottle and pack, and gloves.

Coston says what you carry into a fire depends on what position you’re riding. “You might take in a Halligan bar
[Read about this on Wikipedia], an axe, a flashlight that can shine through smoke, a thermal imager which can show images through smoke, a water can, or a pike pole (used to pull ceilings down and check to see if the fire has gone into a crawl space).”

“Teamwork is huge,” he says. “It’s the whole team that puts the fire out, from the guy pulling the hose line to the guy holding the nozzle. The guy holding the back end of the hose may never even see the fire he’s putting out, but he makes sure the guy up front has enough hose to get there.”

Coston is also a trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). A fire company doesn’t just get called to put fires out. They respond to 911 calls about everything from accidents to heart attacks.

Firefighters feel great about helping people. “My most dramatic call was probably the time four kids were struck by lightning,” says Coston. “We had one kid in cardiac arrest [that means his heart stopped], and we did CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and got a heartbeat back. He’s pretty much fine now!”

Coston will be off to college next fall, building on his dream job. “I’ll get my degree in emergency medical care, and then apply to a fire and rescue company for a while. I want to be a flight medic on a helicopter eventually,” he says.

Remember, call 911 if you smell smoke or see a fire.

Fast Facts:

  • Not all fire trucks carry water
  • A truck company carries a long ladder to reach high-up places
  • A rescue company has a big tool box with almost every tool you can think of
  • Not all fire trucks are red
  • Not all fire stations have dogs
  • Many firefighters have a college degree in Fire Science
  • There are different kinds and sizes of fire hoses for different situations
  • You can take a firefighting course as early as age 16
  • Some firefighters are also paramedics
  • Firefighters respond to more false alarms than fires