Crawling on his stomach in a smoke-filled Upper Darby basement, Adam Barrett noticed bits of his helmet melting off from the unbearable heat of an acetylene tank explosion.
But that didn’t bother him nearly as much as the hot air stinging his mouth. The oxygen in his tank was usually a comforting lifeline, but on this day it was burning his face and throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Just as his supply ran out, he escaped the building, gasping clean, fresh air into his parched lungs.
Adam, 20, looks back on this call as his scariest moment as a volunteer firefighter at the Garrettford-Drexel Hill Volunteer Fire Company. It was the first time he wondered if he’d actually make it out alive.
Yet this self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie regularly stares in the face of danger and offers up weekends to sleep at the firehouse in case of emergency.
“It’s not that uncommon to be up at 3 a.m. on a call and then have to get up at 6 a.m. and go to school,” he said. “But this is a business where you’re loyal to the firemen and the public you serve.”
Since age 16, Adam has taken classes and practiced drills to become certified in firefighting, vehicle rescue, technical rescue and CPR/first aid. His training was certainly tested May 29, 2009, when he responded to an apartment building in the Westbrook Park section of Upper Darby that was engulfed in flames.
That day, Adam not only rescued his fire chief, who had fallen and gotten pinned under the weight of a victim, but he also helped carry the nearly 300-pound, unconscious man down six flights of stairs to safety. The man was resuscitated and hospitalized with only minor burns.
Adam has seen death and tragedy more than he’d like to remember. The image of a woman who died just before reaching the back door of her blazing apartment and the sound of screaming children in car accidents are etched into his memory.
He finds comfort in knowing his fellow firefighters – his firehouse family of 60 brothers – have endured the same tough experiences. They have seen each other at their best and worst.
The Garrettford-Drexel Hill Fire Company responds to 750 to 800 calls a year, always within three minutes, and never backs out of a call. As one of the company’s top 10 volunteers, Adam has received recognition from the local mayor and many other awards for his service.
He doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Adam will be running into burning buildings as long as there are people who need help.
“It’s not for thanks and gratitude,” he said. “I do it because I love it.”
- Julie Achilles
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