March 23, 2010

Lifestyles: Lacrosse People in Unique Places

Lacrosse Magazine's "Lifestyles" series features people of prominence and human interest who possess ties to the nation's fastest growing sport. These are their stories, as told to Clare Lochary.

Boston Blazer Dan Dawson fights just that as a new firefighter in his hometown of Ontario.


Boston Blazers forward Dan Dawson can scorch the net with his shot, and then put the fire out himself. The 2009 NLL MVP recently became a firefighter with the Brampton (Ont.) Fire and Emergency Services. He was definitely on fire with his responses to LM’s questions about his new career.

How did you first get interested in firefighting?
I come from a blue-collar family — my dad’s a police officer and my mom’s a nurse. I started doing the lacrosse thing, and a couple teammates were firefighters and I loved the camaraderie of that. It was a lot like lacrosse. There was a translation — everyone battling for an ultimate goal. I went to the Texas Firefighting Academy two years ago, and got my diploma. Then you have to apply to the department, do first responder training, do a physical and a written exam and an interview. I started in Brampton on May 25. After three months of in-house training, I started taking live calls in September.

What did your family say when you first got involved?
My dad’s a police officer, and both occupations are very hostile. You put yourself in harm’s way. My mom and I were actually in a house fire when I was about 20 years old, so shewas a little bit nervous, but very supportive.

Is it hard to work in NLL stuff with your work schedule?
I’ve been very spoiled the last six years that my occupation has been playing in both pro leagues. The secret to life is balance and I’m trying to achieve that but I’ve got a lot going on right now. I’ve got a great support staff from the Brampton department. I’ve done some shift changes and taken vacations when I need to. Right now firefighting is number one, because it is my career. Lacrosse is number two now, for the first time in my life. My intensity for the game and love for the game haven’t changed, though.

I’ve always heard that fire companies are huge practical jokers. Is that the case?
Yeah, there’s no doubt that you get more than four guys in a room together, they’re probably going to cause some mischief. In my crew, we have a captain and a few other guys, and they’ve been so welcoming for me. They all have 20 years experience and they’ve been big brothers to me. I know other firehouses, I’d probably be getting it a little more.

Who gets goofier — the Blazers or the guys at the firehouse?
Oh, definitely the Blazers. A bunch of young guys and a good mix of Canadians and Americans. There’s a lot going on.

Can you take me through a typical day at the firehouse?
We have two shifts, day and night. On a day shift, we get to work around 6:30 a.m. We make sure we do all our equipment check, and the truck check and our radio check. We make sure that we do some training, which is ongoing because we don’t want to be reactionary when we’re in the process of fighting a fire. We always train for the worst-case scenario, so when it does happen, we’re ready. Between that and all the calls, it gets busy. We’re first responders for all medical calls, which are about 75 percent of our total calls. We’ll cook a meal together as a group. You do everything together. For me, I have so much to learn as a rookie, so I spend a lot of time with my head in books.

Lacrosse and fires — are you an adrenaline junkie?
I am. That rush, that high you get from testing your body, I like that. I’m kind of bipolar in that sense. Otherwise I am a pretty laid-back guy, pretty West Coast chill, I would say. Then when a game hits, I kind of go into a zone. In the fire department, you have to be even-keeled and composed in most situations. As in lacrosse, when you lose composure, that’s when bad things happen.

What were you most surprised about during the course of your training?
The command structure, and the organization that goes into an emergency situation. It’s not just putting the wet stuff on the hot stuff. There’s a lot that goes into it, and the fire science side of thing — thermal layering and the different types of gasses, and how you can control them. You realize how much the captain and the chiefs know, and how they are so composed in handling high-pressure situations. And a lot of medical stuff that I’m very interested in. I was definitely excited to just learn all the inner workings of it all.

You’re a big guy (6’2”/220). Is that ever a disadvantage with firefighting? I can see how you’d have to be big for some jobs, but other times the weight/size thing might work against you, if a building is unstable or in small spaces.
It’s good for getting cats out of a tree, that’s for sure. As far as crawling around in tight situations, it’s very much a disadvantage. But the world isn’t made for tall, lanky guys — not airplanes or bus seats or chairs — so I’m used to it. You’ve just got to be careful in those kind of situations.

I know this is a sensitive, and possibly dumb question to ask, but is firefighting ever scary? I’m sure a lot of people think about it in a little boy hero sort of way, but it must be harder than that.
I don’t know if I get scared, but you never underestimate the situation because it can turn on you in any moment. I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I just make sure I’m very aware. It’s the same with lacrosse — I’m not scared to fail, or scared to take a shot. With a fire call, if you roll up there and you’re scared, your mind starts playing tricks on you. You’re always ready, ideally.

What’s more exhausting — playing a tough lacrosse game or fighting a fire?
A working fire is probably tougher than playing for two hours, mentally and physically. It’s very exhausting. That’s taking nothing away from the two-hour lacrosse game. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more on the line in real life.

Can you speak to the team aspect of both jobs? Did lacrosse prepare you well for firefighting?
I think it did. With anything in life, there’s no real individual job. You’re always part of a team or a family, and I love that. I love just being in the dressing room with the guys, and knowing that the guy beside you has your back, and it holds true within the fire department. It’s a very tight-knit community. Firemen and women are always making sure they have each other’s back. That’s very important. I’ve also worked a lot with the media relations side of things in lacrosse, trying to grow the game, and that also prepared me for dealing with the public [as a firefighter].

Is there anyone else on the Blazers who you’d think would be a good firefighter?
My brother Paul would be a great firefighter and not just because he’s my brother. Any one of the guys you can take out, and remove them from lacrosse and put them into the firehouse and I think they’d be great, because they understand teamwork and hard work and everyone working towards a common goal. That’s why we were so successful last year. Any one of ‘em.

Who in your firehouse would do well in the NLL?
Yeah, there are lots. We just started playing a pick-up lacrosse league the last couple of months. So it’s drummed up a lot of interest. Physically, they’re all in their prime. They’ve got great attitudes. I would love to go head-to-head with any of them.

What’s the goofiest call you’ve ever been on?
The fire department is kind of a jack-of-all-trades, so we have a lot of different calls. The goofiest one was we got a call that the house was making a noise. We went to the house and the house was almost vibrating. It scared the homeowner, and rightfully so. We did some investigating and it turned out the pipes were backed up. We turned them off and ran the tub and the pipes cleared through and it was fine. We get some funny calls, but that’s why we’re here.

You’re a leader and veteran for the Blazers, but relatively new to the firefighting career. Is it hard to swap between the leader/rookie roles?
No, not at all. It’s totally two different roles. I really enjoy that side of things. My experience in the fire department is very minimal compared to the guys I’m working with. I just refer to my training, and it’s a very humbling experience. There’s no problem switching out.

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