At Reston's Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Station 25 on Wiehle Avenue, firefighters and paramedics work three separate 24-hour rotation shifts.
Sleeping comes last when duty calls.
Reston’s Captain Jeffrey Tolle, a 21-year veteran of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, recalls a shift when they responded to 23 calls in 24 hours. They ate dinner at 3 a.m.
“We’re firefighters,” he says. “We adjust.”
From July-September 2010, Station 25 responded to more than 1,500 calls to fight fires, provide technical and water rescues, clean up hazardous materials spills, and provide emergency medical services (basic and advanced life support) and emergency medical transportation.
Capt. Tolle says basic firefighting has not changed that much over the years, but technology has had a big impact.
“Advances in technology help save lives, no question about that,” he says.
Akilha Hughely, a firefighter at Station 25, bunks with one other female co-worker as sleeping quarters are separate for men and women.
Hughley joined the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in 2008. She grew up in Fort Washington, MD, and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from George Washington University.
Before joining the force, Hughley worked as a juvenile probation officer in Montgomery County. Friends in the department encouraged her to apply.
To join, Hughley passed a written exam and a physical fitness test and completed rigirous training.
“I had to be able to carry a body on the job and I have to ‘pull a ceiling,' ” she said.
Close to 1,400 uniformed men and women work at the county's 37 fire and rescue stations. More than 200 full-time and seasonal civilians provide administrative support.
Firefighters prepare meals and eat on the job, which is why Restonians often see them shopping at local grocery stores. Everyone shares in the cost and preparation of shift meals.
“There’s a fund and we collect money from everyone," says Tolle. "That includes basics like mayonnaise, salt and pepper and coffee."
Hughley is taking classes in pharmacology at Northern Virginia Community College as she is training to become a paramedic. It will take her two years to finish while working full time. She also works a second job as a fitness trainer.
What is her favorite part of the job? “I learn something new everyday.” she says. “And we never run the same call. The routine changes. It is always exciting.”