LIKE THE day Kennedy was shot, or when we watched as man took one small step on the moon, we will never forget 9/11, watching as planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the towers fell. First responders rushed in, many of whom didn’t make it out but gave their all to save the lives of strangers. Also watching that morning was 12-year-old Jesse Julien, who heard the reactions coming from the office at Liberty School as he sold school supplies in the room across the hall.
“I was young but immediately wanted to jump into action and help those in need. I was angry, upset, irritated, and sick to my stomach when I heard the news. Seeing all those first responders and emergency personnel rushing in to save innocent lives, knowing they may never see their family, was the most devastating thing I’d seen growing up. I knew without a doubt that I would save someone even if it cost me my life, and I was trying to figure out how I could help,” said Julien.
He found a way in 2016 as a volunteer firefighter in Wartrace and later with the Bedford County Fire Department at Sation No. 1. Finally, he found a way to serve the community he loves so much. Helping others is as important as oxygen to keep a community alive.
He said, “I love to help people, whether it’s a medical call, a wreck, a fire, a water rescue, a land search, a cave rescue, or getting their cat out of a tree. Every day is a different day. There are never two shifts that are the same.”
Spending a third of the year with like-minded co-workers and shared experiences builds a tight-knit support group, a safe spot for decompressing and managing mental health challenges inherent to such work.
“Handling the stress and the losses I encounter on and off the clock is hard, and I will say this job is not for everyone,” Julien said. “I don’t talk to my fiance about the things I see, smell, or hear because I don’t want to put those images into her head, nor do I want to put those images in someone else’s head. I generally talk to my brothers and sisters in my line of work. I also have my dog, Blaze, a 3 1/2 -year-old blue heeler that I go home to after every shift to mellow out with. My dog has been through so much with me, and he’s my go-to when I have a bad day.”
Everyone’s mental health is important to Julien, not just on the job as a first responder.
“Always check on those around you because those that seem fine and smile all the time aren’t always okay. I’m the one who always checks on people to make sure they’re okay. I always offer to listen to anyone, regardless of the time of day or night. Your life is important. Talk to someone you can confide in, and always reach out for help if you are struggling,” he said.
Julien’s desire to help others was ingrained on 9/11, but the dream for others started even sooner. Public relations events with area schools, daycares, and churches are among his favorite parts of the job.
“This is the age where these children start to have dreams and learn a little more about their potential dream job or career. We are the beginning of our future generation. Kids like seeing our big red trucks with their lights and sirens. Interacting with the children and having them ask questions makes my day better,” he said.
And the safety of the children and their families is at the top of the list during these visits.
“We always ask who they call if their house is on fire. We start early, impacting their lives,” said Julien. “We want these kids to know we’re always here for them, and they can always come to us when they’re in need of anything.”
Wherever he is, he’s ready to respond to a need, whether as a firefighter, a listening friend, or someone to offer you a smile.
He said, “What I do isn’t work. They say if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life, and that holds true with me. I enjoy being in my community and helping those in need.”
Working two other jobs keeps him busy, but his focus is always the same.
“I always like to be on the go, learning new things every day, and talking and helping people within the community,” said Julien. “We always do our best with what we have and with the training and equipment we have. It’s not just one person; we all do it together to bring about the best possible outcome. It takes a team.”
Julien’s childhood dream to help is now a daily reality. GN