Firefighters are stoic, no-nonsense manly men who will throw you over their shoulders and take you down a ladder from a burning building if need be. They don't joke (fires are serious business, you guys), they eat cheeseburgers and steaks and only watch the news or "Rescue Me" because, you know, firefighting and stuff.
At least that's what I thought.
I never actually met or talked to a fireman until the beginning of September when I was assigned a story on the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company 9/11 memorial at its Dublin station and spoke with two gentlemen from the department.
Imagine my surprise when I make my first phone call and on the other end I hear a thick Bawlmer accent and a boisterous laugh. Jerry Scarborough, while definitely masculine and probably eats a burger every once in a while, was friendly, charismatic and downright hilarious. One of my favorite people I've ever interviewed.
Then there's Robert Nelson, another Dublin volunteer firefighter, who almost had me in tears at my desk (embarrassing!) from telling his story about how he and another firefighter went to the John F. Kennedy International Airport hangar in New York to pick up a 9/11 artifact to be the focal point of the memorial in Dublin and witnessed the wreckage that remained from the two majestic towers that once stood tall in The City That Never Sleeps.
When I met both of these brave men at the memorial dedication on Sept. 11, I was taken aback by Jerry's warmth — and giant bear hug — and Robert's soft voice and sweetness.
Then I had the pleasure of being in a room filled with former and current members of the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company during its 60th anniversary banquet at the Level fire hall.
I was first greeted by "The Lous," former fire company president Lou Jonske and Lou Brown, a past chief and on the board of directors.
Jonske was sociable and energetic and caught me off guard with his sense of humor, like your favorite uncle that you only see during holidays and makes up for the time lost by telling his best jokes.
Brown, who's also the historian for Joppa-Magnolia, was snapping pictures throughout the night and pointed out that he put together a few books documenting the fire company's past and present. Who thought a mustachioed fireman would have a penchant for photography?
Chief Derrick Lloyd's story, however, was another that nearly had me in tears.
Lloyd, much like me, knew what he wanted to do from a very early age and loves every minute of it. Nothing can stop him, not evenbraincancer.
As I was talking to Lloyd, he casually mentioned that he wouldn't stop being a firefighter until a doctor told him to. I replied with, "Hopefully that won't be for quite some time." He paused for a few seconds and told me that it could be sooner than he hopes because he was diagnosed with the vicious disease in 2009.
I, of course, 1. felt like a jerk for joking around and 2. felt like an even bigger jerk for complaining about stupid things when this man is not only fighting to save other people's lives, but fighting to save his own.
But that's not what he was focused on — he just wanted to help people and honor his fallen colleagues.
I apologize if any of you gents get embarrassed by me calling you out in this column or don't take compliments well, but talking to you five guys really gave me a sense of what being a firefighter is really about: helping people at all costs.
And while a few of them most likely do love a nice porterhouse steak and have climbed up a ladder to save someone in a burning building, they're also grandfathers, husbands, jokesters and give some seriously good hugs.