Responding to the Call

First responders are not just an integral part of a community, but they have become a necessity in today’s world of uncertainties. Despite technological advances society has achieved, the need for spontaneous decision making and compassionate hearts has never been more obvious. While all first responders have significantly important missions and tasks to complete, firefighters embrace danger instantaneously. Whether dealing with natural calamities and disasters or traffic accidents and raging fires, firefighters are front and center to handle and respond to al kinds of emergencies. Firefighters are trained extensively to extinguish hazardous fires that threaten environment, property and life, but the functional role firefighters play has evolved significantly over time. While most would picture a firefighter with a breathing mask, a hard helmet, reflective clothing and a fire hose in hand, it is easy to overlook the myriad of other tasks firefighters perform. They exude compassion, commitment, empathy and mental balance during some of the toughest situations one could face. To perform such a selfless duty, with clear vision, mental agility and calmness, requires perseverance and prolonged training in preparation to beat all odds. These are the qualities that make these men and women the best of the best. One such selfless firefighter in Frisco, who is committed to making a difference in people’s lives, is firefighter Jessica Sanchez.

“If there is one thing I wanted to do, I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to touch lives and make a difference in the community that I belong to, but I needed direction as to where to start and how,” notes Ms. Sanchez. Her inspiration and burning fire from within has provided her with one laser-focused mission — to help people. It is this unwavering goal that kept her grounded, no matter what difficulties life threw at her. Each time Ms. Sanchez has been at a crossroads, it is the thought of helping people that helps her stretch her limits. 

Born here in North Texas, Ms. Sanchez attended Collin College and trained to be an emergency medical technician (EMT). Ms. Sanchez volunteered at the Lucas Fire Department in 2012 and felt there could be an opportunity for her to explore fire departments in the area. She was a bit nervous, considering firefighting is a somewhat male-dominant field, but she has always felt that if she puts in the right rigor and effort, she will be able to make a difference. Securing the support from family and friends was another challenge and a daunting task she had to address. Mentally, for her, it was crossing that chasm that was more paramount than anything else. Even though Ms. Sanchez volunteered at the fire department, she tried other departments, as well. However, her heart was always in the spontaneous and compassionate response firefighters have to save lives. That leap of faith intrinsically was instrumental in Ms. Sanchez securing a career position as a firefighter with the Frisco Fire Department.

The City of Frisco has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, both in resident population and business. With growth comes additional responsibility to boost efficiency and reduce incidents. The Frisco Fire Department earned an ISO rating of No. 1 in 2001, one of only 36 departments to have this distinction in the U.S., and it has been an upward journey ever since. These factors attribute to demands at a personal level for all firefighters. “Initially, it was physically demanding. To step up to the demand, I had to train and cross-fit for at least an hour, six times a week,” Ms. Sanchez recalls. “Mental toughness is a key component to complete paramedic school and manage the 24-hour on/48-hour off shifts at the fire department.” Almost all firefighters are constantly training to boost their strength and stay prepared for any situation they might face. 

So, what does a typical day look like in firefighter Sanchez’s life? The day typically starts early by providing relief to outgoing firefighters. Methodical activities such as checking equipment and trucks and physically working out are performed prior to breakfast. Multiple meetings are scheduled throughout the day to account for various development activities. An immense amount of focus is given to continued education, where firefighters gather and master skills related to paramedic, EMT and other life skills. “Having a well-balanced and planned schedule and routine is the key to making sure everyone operates at their best levels,” notes Deputy Fire Chief Kyle Mills. This rhythm is deviated mostly in the event of an incident that requires firefighters. While one would expect an “all hands on deck” type engagement, in actuality, most first responders follow a pre-defined strategy called “priority dispatching.” Following a 911 call, police, fire and EMS personnel are dispatched based on the type of emergency on hand. Situational awareness subsequently aids in getting other responders engaged based on need. 

When asked about how the first 10 minutes would feel after returning from an emergency, Ms. Sanchez responds, “We are heavily engaged in documenting data and working on improvements. There is no room for emotion to creep in, as we have a fresh incident at hand.” The level of impact at the personal level might not happen hours or even days after the incident. Collectively, everyone is working towards providing the right support and preparing for the future. “All firefighters in the Frisco Fire Department are EMT-trained,” notes Ms. Sanchez, with a true sense of pride.

The City of Frisco is leveraged significantly in many levels to ensure safety for residents and businesses alike. “There are programs such as Situational Awareness for Emergency Response (SAFER) that are unique and work together with police, the fire department, the Frisco ISD and traffic engineering departments to provide real-time, uninterrupted access to a location and engage in remedial action,” notes Deputy Chief Mills. The City of Frisco has invested significantly to maintain state-of-the-art technology and resources through financial commitments. It is this level of community and belonging between the department, City and firefighters that has bolstered a unique bonding for firefighters like Ms. Sanchez to blossom. 

Out of 200 firefighters in the department, Ms. Sanchez is one of six women who proudly serve our community. She and everyone else go through the same rigor and hardship to make sure they perform their absolute best during their three-year tenure as firefighters. 

In the future, Ms. Sanchez envisions herself teaching young women how to work toward a selfless cause or find ways to help make a difference. She hopes to instill confidence and the ability for young kids to follow their hearts. 

Integrity, courage and pride are Ms. Sanchez’s main motivations which earned her the title of “Rookie of the Year” for her first year in service and she has gained the respect of every firefighter in the department. Upon reflection of her journey so far, Ms. Sanchez says, with a sparkle in her eyes, “I see it as a calling, not just a career.”

Vikram Venneti is a business leader, technology evangelist, tree hugger and food connoisseur. He loves to run and hike and is a dad with a penchant for writing.

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