“I’m not gonna lie,” Justin Bird said. “There have been plenty of nights when I’m laying in bed at night while I’m on duty at the station thinking ‘I’ve got the greatest job in the world.’”
Justin is an engineer for the Bedford County fire department, but not all days are spent fighting fires. Many civilians are not aware of the extensive jobs that take place inside the department.
The 24-hour shift starts with a thorough cleaning of the station and constant training while the firefighters wait for the next call. Days and nights are spent together as a crew, bettering their skills for the next call, be it a medical call, a wreck, or a house fire. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit America, and it made its way to Bedford County.
As a department, they had to prepare for the worst. After seeing videos and news stories from China, the pandemic became real when cities like New York and Los Angeles were battling the virus with numbers so high they didn’t seem real. It led to the anticipation, how will Bedford County be affected?
Justin and the rest of the crew had to prepare themselves for the pandemic inside and outside the walls of the department.
“The fire department is probably one of the cleanest buildings around because it’s cleaned every single day,” Justin said.
When COVID hit, it was fully sanitized, from the bed posts to the door handles, three times a day. And with COVID cases in the county on the rise, the crews could no longer spend time together at every meal. They had to adjust to social distancing guidelines. The days of sitting together around the table and quizzing each other on streets in the county were over. Now, the crew was divided, sitting just a few members per table at dinner.
While the pandemic Brough worry and uncertainty to the world, the Bedford County community was the light at the end of the tunnel. The community came together, even when everyone was six feet apart. The community continually donated to the department that was on the front lines fighting the pandemic; every corner of the county donated masks, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment.
The majority of the calls for the fire department were medical calls, and there was a time that the Bedford County EMS only ran calls where there were COVID symptoms in the house. Not every call was a tame one. On the front lines, firefighters see things that no one would want to see.
“Sometimes bad calls happen,” Justin said. “And they could be a career-ender.” At times, some bad calls involved children, but Justin was there to give them comfort. He would keep a rubber band around his fire-resistant helmet. He would arrive at a call with a child and see them worried, scared, and upset. Inside the rubber band on his helmet was a small action figure.
“This guy protects me,” he would tell them. “And I’m going to make sure everyone
is okay.”Then Justin would ask them to watch after the action figure. The newfound purpose would give them comfort while Justin and the crew did their jobs.
On top of keeping the county safe, Justin is the coordinator for Toys for Tots. In addition to the COVID protection gear, the community donated toys and funds to give more than 600 families toys for the holiday season during one of the worst economic periods in recent memory.
Through economic uncertainty and a pandemic, the community worked together to save as many lives as possible. That’s why Justin calls Shelbyville home, for now and forever.
“I will never leave,” he said.-GN