Elkhart Fire Department Lt. Jason Wogoman is part of the four-man crew on Engine 18, the aerial search and rescue truck.
Q: How long have you been a firefighter?
A: Started as a volunteer in Middlebury 20 years ago and then when I turned 21 I got hired at Goshen, so that would be 18 years ago, so I’ve been here for 13 (years) then.
Q: Why did you want to become a firefighter?
A: Just always wanted to do it. My brother is a full-time fireman, both my dad and stepdad are firemen, I had uncles that were firemen, so it’s kind of always been in our family, so I’ve always enjoyed doing it.
Q: What is it that you enjoy about it?
A: Helping people. It’s nice to be able to save something that otherwise would have been a complete loss. Maybe it’s a picture that someone wanted (when) their house burned down, but we saved the picture or we saved their house and they can go back and live in it as opposed to being homeless now.
Q: Being on Engine 18, what is the most difficult part of it?
A: On our rig, it’s very physically demanding. You have to be in very good shape because of the job that we do. On my side, I do all the search and rescue, so there are times you have to go find people and that’s (difficult) if some of them don’t make it. But it’s also the most rewarding when you do pull someone out that now is alive.
Q: What are some myths about firefighters that people just don’t understand?
A: I think they think we do a lot of just sitting around when in reality we do a lot of training, we do a lot of physical fitness. The old photos of the bigger, heavier-set firefighters, I don’t think you see that nearly as much anymore. We’ve become very health-conscious, there’s not a lot of downtime anymore. We run a lot of calls, we’re up all hours of the night. ... When we come to work we’re here to work. We work 24-hour shifts. We come in at 7 a.m. and we get off at 7 a.m. the next day and then we have two days off. So we work every three days.
Q: How many calls did you run last year?
A: I think last year we had a little over 8,000 calls. Eighty percent were EMS calls, roughly 20 percent were fire calls. This truck just does fire runs and we do specialty calls, so any hazmat run we’ll go on, any dive run we go on, any extrication we go on and any fire we go on.
Q: What do you get out of it?
A: It’s very rewarding. When you help people out, there’s a sense that they appreciate it and that’s a good feeling. That you were there to help somebody when they really needed you, and you’re trained well enough and you knew how to help them. That’s a very rewarding feeling.