Fikar says career is his saving grace

The firefighter with the Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services has been battling blazes for more than 2

The firefighter with the Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services has been battling blazes for more than 2

August 05, 2002|by Liz Boch

Growing up in a single-parent, low-income family, David Fikar said he was always getting into trouble, whether while living in New York City or after moving to Maryland.

More than 25 years later, as a firefighter at Hillandale Fire Station No. 12 for the Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Fikar said his career is still his saving grace.

"Being a fireman is the greatest job in the world," the 42-year-old Hagerstown resident said. "I can't imagine anything better."

He first decided to volunteer at the Wheaton (Md.) Volunteer Rescue Squad at age 17 after Dave Cohen, a Wheaton firefighter, came to his front door looking for donations to the squad.


"We got to talking and I was looking for something to do, something good," Fikar said. "My siblings were always in trouble. I was in all kinds of trouble, just fighting and arguing, and I wanted to avoid that."

Volunteering 60 hours a month, Fikar said the job forced him to mature.

"It was a man's domain then," he said. "If you acted like a punk, you were treated like a punk. I went from having no dad to having 100 dads. I was the man in the house at home, but the kid in the fire hall."

He fought his first fire on his 18th birthday, two months after completing training. His squad saved 30 elderly and handicapped people from a Wheaton nursing home.

"I was scared to death," he said. "You couldn't see anything. I'll never forget it as long as I live."

After shifting from a job as a mechanic to a full-time firefighter, Fikar said he learned professionals are held to a higher standard than volunteers.

"You have volunteers that are as good as a career fireman, dedicated to the service," Fikar said. "Then you have ones who believe they are the service."

Fikar advised people considering the field either as volunteers or professionals to take the job seriously and with humility.

"When people dial 911 and a fire truck comes, they don't care whether it's volunteers or career firemen. They expect both to take care of them," he said.

Fikar learned his lesson through watching other firefighters behave on the job. He said he was moved by Ray Downey, a respected veteran of the New York City Fire Department who died at ground zero on Sept. 11.

Fikar said he never met someone so modest.

"(Downey) was the most highly decorated fireman there, but he'd talk to you like it was nothing," he said. "Everybody knew he was someone, but he never acted like it. I thought if he could be as humble as he was, maybe I should back down a little."

Fikar's wife, Patricia, said that although they have been married for more than 20 years, she still worries whether he will come home from a fire to her, their daughter Heather, 17, and son David, 20.

"There were times when I got really scared because he didn't come home when he was supposed to, and I'd see a fire he was called to on the news, but he'll die doing what he loves doing," she said. "I've seen him work and I know he's dedicated to doing things the right way, so he'll come home if he can."

Fikar said the camaraderie he found in volunteering at 17 continues 25 years later.

"I love the atmosphere, the togetherness," he said. "It's just 12 guys standing by each other. I won't stop this for another 15 years."

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