On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes Prince George’s County Fire Chief Tiffany Green to the show on Monday, October 5 at 12:30 p.m. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
What’s it like to run into a burning building? How do you give CPR to a dog? Why is there a driver at the back of the firetruck?
Firefighters will walk through flames to save your life. But as if battling fires wasn’t enough, the job also involves treating medical emergencies, rescuing people from floods, teaching adults and kids how to prevent fires — and more.
Chief Tiffany Green fell in love with the profession as a volunteer riding along in an ambulance when she was in college. Now she leads more than 1,000 career firefighters and more than 900 volunteer firefighters as head of the Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
Maybe you want to be a firefighter too. Or maybe you just have questions about how much firefighters’ gear weighs, or how often they have to get up in the middle of the night to rush to an emergency. What do you want to ask Chief Green?
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Tiffany Green Chief, Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Service; @PGFDNews
KOJO NNAMDIYes, that is a fire truck siren, but don't worry, there is no fire. But we are going to talk about firefighting today and fire trucks and fire hydrants and all that cool gear that firefighters use and wear. It's a job for brave people who are willing to spend time away from their own families to help protect everybody's family.
KOJO NNAMDIToday we've got Prince George's County Fire Chief Tiffany Green with us to talk about what life is really like as a firefighter. Chief Green started in the department as a volunteer and was sworn in as chief earlier this year, becoming the first woman to hold the position in the county and the ninth African American woman fire chief in the nation. Chief Green, thank you so much for joining us.
TIFFANY GREENThank you for having me. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDITell us about when you were a kid. Where were you born, and where were you raised?
GREENOkay. So, I was born in Martinsville, Virginia. I move to Prince George's County when I was two or three years old. I grew up in Fort Washington elementary -- I mean, sorry, grew up in Fort Washington, Maryland and went to Apple Grove Elementary. So, right off of Moth Road is where I grew up. I later went to Riverdale Baptist High School right off of Central Avenue. So, I consider myself to be a native Prince Georgian.
NNAMDIWhat was your childhood like, and what did you want to be when you grew up?
GREENWow. So, I think I would consider myself to be a little bit of tomboy. I spent most of my time outside, playing sports. Played volleyball and did all those things and ran track. But growing up I wanted to be a doctor. That's really what I wanted to do.
NNAMDIAnd what did you study in college, and how did you get into firefighting?
GREENSo, I went to George Washington University right outside -- as soon as I graduated. My major was biology, with a minor in education. And while I was taking my courses for my major, I took a class called EMT. It's emergency medical technician class. And part of the requirements for that class is that you do some ride-alongs, where you actually ride along with the fire fighters and EMTs to, you know, pretty much perfect your skills and learn them.
GREENAnd I did the ride along in Prince George's County at station 842 right off of Marcy Avenue, and that was kind of my opening to the fire service. And I did that for, you know, a few weeks and got all the requirements done. And then I liked it enough and enjoyed it that I began volunteering. And that kind of started that pathway to where I'm at today.
NNAMDIYou were hooked. About 20 years ago, Chief Green, when you were taking the test to become a firefighter and then going through the training, were there other women alongside you? Did anyone give you a hard time because you're female?
GREENWell, there wasn't a lot of women, I'll tell you that. It's a male-dominated profession. I did have some women beside me when I was in the recruit school and going through and we bonded together over things that are just common for us. A lot of times, women in firefighting, it's the pressure of being able to do the same thing that the males are doing. The physical capabilities and making sure that you have the strength and the training to be able to rescue a life and be able to protect yourself is important. And those are just some of the things that we had to experience going into recruit school. And we had to overcome them, and we did.
NNAMDIHere now is nine-year-old Elliott in Washington, D.C. Elliott, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLIOTTHi. My question for you is, what are some of the experiences that you experienced to make you a better leader?
GREENWow, that's a good question. That's a tough question, too. Well, I would have to say, Elliott, that as I came up through the ranks, I had the opportunity to watch some phenomenal leaders in front of me. So, I think that I was able to see how they led our department. And some of the things that they did I was able to take some tips from them and perfect my skills so that I could become a better leader.
GREENBut a lot of times, for me, even as a woman having that compassion, understanding that we are impacting people's lives both on the job and off the job, also having that courage to go into burning buildings and to be a first responder is important, also, as a leader. And understanding where you came from and why you do what you do and why we serve our community.
NNAMDIElliott, thank you very much for your call. Excellent question. Here now is 12-year-old Eric in Maryland. Eric, your turn.
ERICWell, why does a fire truck don't need water, and work all the time with no water, you have water on truck?
GREENOkay. I think you're asking me why does a fire truck have to have water?
GREENOkay. So, our fire trucks are equipped with 500 gallons of water and we carry that water so that when we get to the scene when there's an active fire, we can quickly put that fire out by having that water in the pump. Now, we connect to a hydrant, which gives us more of a static source of continuous water. But, initially, when we first get there, we need to have enough to put a quick knock on that fire so we can get everyone out safely.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call, Eric. Chief Green, most firefighters in movies and on TV seem to be really big people. Do you have to be big to be a firefighter?
GREENNo, and I'm not pretty big, I'll tell you that now. I'm only 5'2". (laugh) And, a lot of times, that's a misconception that people have. And, you know, the biggest thing is training and technique. So, if you're short, if you have small stature, you can still do the job. You have to do it a little differently, but you can still do the job. You have to train for me, be physically fit and you have to be able to use different techniques to achieve the goal that you need to achieve. It's possible.
NNAMDIWe know some things that fire fighters do require strength.
NNAMDI(overlapping) For what parts of the job do you need that strength?
GREENOkay. So, let's just talk about what they wear. I mean, the gear, the equipment, the SCBA, which is the bottle that's on their back that helps them breathe in an idyllic situation, an environment where there's smoke and carbon monoxide, that's 45 pounds. So, you have to be able to carry that equipment when you're going into a fire. And you're rushing in and everyone else is rushing out.
GREENOur ladders are also very heavy. You have to be able to take them off of the fire truck and throw them onto a building so that you can deploy that ladder so that you can rescue someone. And then we also have to be able to pull someone out of a structure. If they're unconscious or something is wrong with them, we have to be able to use techniques to drag them out. And all that requires upper body strength. And we encourage our firefighters to continue to stay in shape and to life weights and do the things necessary so that they can achieve that goal.
NNAMDIThe upper body strength. How many other women worked as firefighters when you started and what was it like to be one of the few or only women doing the job?
GREENSo, when I got hired in 1999, it was a pretty large class. We had over 100 firefighters, entry level recruits, that were starting. In my particular platoon, we had about 10, which is a lot, considering, at the time, in fire service, it's just a very small amount of women. So, I worked very hard to try to encourage women to come into the fire service, because a lot of times they don't know this is something that they can do. I mean, they have to see someone doing the job in order for them to believe that they can do it. So, it's important for me that I'm out there in the forefront so that people can see that you can actually do this job, and you can rise to the level of fire chief.
NNAMDIWere the men in your firefighting company always welcoming to you and other women? How did you deal with those who were not?
GREENWell, there's always the naysayers. There's always people there that believe that you don't belong to this particular group. The fire service is rich in traditions. And, for years, it's always been passed down as a male dominant profession. So, of course, coming into anything new there's always a challenge there. And sometimes you feel the need to have to prove yourself.
GREENAnd we did have those people who didn't believe we could do the job, but, again, we had our mentors that told us to pretty much put our heads down, do the job, learn the skills. Remember why you're here, which is to serve the community. And regardless of whether or not they feel that you belong or not, you're here, and you're making a difference, and that's what we do.
NNAMDIOur guest is Tiffany Green. She leads the fire and emergency medical service department of Prince George's County. You can only call if you are a kid. What do you think is the best thing about being a firefighter? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Also give us a call if you want to know what's the hardest thing about being a firefighter.
NNAMDIChief Green, we've heard some of the challenges to being one of the few women firefighters. I hear that some male firefighters thought you got promoted to important jobs pretty fast. Some even asked if it was because you are a woman. How did you respond to them?
GREENWell, I think a lot of times the proof is in the pudding, so sometimes you have to show them. For me, I came up through the ranks. I started as a volunteer. I did a few years there. And then once I came into the department, I promoted up through every rank. And every time I've taken a promotional exam, I've been at the top. And I think that's important, because I put the work in to be where I'm at.
GREENAnd I think a lot of times when they look at my track record and they see the things that I've accomplished being a part of this organization, it's pretty much there in black-and-white. I've come up through the ranks. I've done what I needed to do to be here and be the leader of this department. I think that's important.
NNAMDIWell, apparently, you were the highest scorer on every exam for promotion that you ever took.
NNAMDIThat's correct? That's enough reason to...
GREENIt is. It's correct. It's correct.
NNAMDI...that's enough reason to hate you right there, but (laugh) ...
GREENYou know, yep, again, I don't talk about it a lot, but it's important, and it's a great accomplishment. But it really was hard work and dedication and consistency in making sure that every time I took a promotional exam, I gave it 100 percent. I studied and put in the work. And it's important that people understand that that's what you have to do in this type of profession. When you want to be at the top, you have to put in the work at the bottom. And that's what I was able to do.
NNAMDIHere's eight-year-old Lucinda in Silver Spring, Maryland. Lucinda, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
LUCINDAMy question is: What kind of fire do you use your fire extinguisher at home?
GREENOkay. So, this is a great question, because this is Fire Prevention Week. October 4th through the 10th is Fire Prevention Week. And one of the things that we're talking about is making sure that we have fire extinguishers for our kitchen fires, we have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
GREENAnd so, on your fire extinguisher, there's a rating and it's rated in alphabets. And it's going to tell you, if you look at the pictures on the side of it, what you can use your extinguisher for. There's several different types of extinguishers. Most of the ones that your parents are buying are the ones you get from Home Depot or Walmart. And they're for your kitchen fires. That's if something happens in your kitchen. Maybe you're cooking, a grease fire or something happens, that's what your parents are going to use to put out that fire. And there's instructions on there of what to do there.
GREENBut I want to remind you guys that when we talk about kitchen fires, we need to be very careful. We need to make sure that we're not leaving any food unattended. We need to remind our parents not to leave any food unattended. At times they can get distracted and take a call. We want to make sure that we're not touching any stoves or the ovens. We're keeping oven mitts and paper towels and those types of things away from warm surfaces so that there aren't any fires in your home.
GREENAnd then the last thing I'll remind you is always to have an evacuation plan. You want to make sure you practice that plan with your parents, so that in the event there is a fire, you know where to go and what to do.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lucinda. You, too, can give us a call. Have you ever visited a fire station? What did you learn, 800-433-8850? Chief Green, has being an African American firefighter presented challenges? Have you ever had to content with racial prejudice on the job?
GREENAbsolutely. I mean, I think that goes without saying. Again, when we talk about the fire service, again, it's generally a male-dominated field, and it's rich in tradition. So, here in Prince George's County, we work very hard to diversify our department, but I can't say that I haven't had challenges as an African American firefighter in the fire service, especially in Prince George's County.
GREENTo overcome those challenges, for me, it's really been about just having that dialogue and having those conversations with my crew, making sure that we both understand the different perspectives. We're coming from different worlds and different environments, but we're all here to serve the same mission and goal. So, for me, I've been able to overcome those challenges on my shifts, and I've supervised challenging groups by just having that conversation and just facing it head-on.
NNAMDIHere now is eight-year-old Rose in Washington, D.C. Rose, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROSEHow many fires do you put out in a month?
GREENWow. Well, that's a tough question. Well, what I can tell you, Rose, is that we run about 450 calls a day. That's a lot of calls.
GREENAnd we run about a 140,000 calls a year. But, to be honest with you, most of the time, our calls are for EMS, which is our Emergency Medical Services. We run 80 percent of our calls, the majority of what we do every day is coming to your home to pick up people who are sick. That's the majority of what we do. And I think a lot of that is because we are taking the precautions to make sure that we don't have as many fires. We have our working smoke alarms and our sprinkler systems in Prince George's County. And our call volume for fires is actually down. So, I'm very excited about that.
NNAMDIRose, thank you very much for your call. Good question. Chief Green, let's talk about what you need to succeed on the job. What makes for a good firefighter and, frankly, where do you get the courage to run into burning buildings? Do firefighters not get scared sometimes?
GREENOh, we absolutely get scared. Even now, when we talk about COVID, we have a lot of anxiety and fear as it relates to that. But what it takes to do the job here is just having the training and the background to do it. And we teach you how to do that coming in. You don't have to have any previous knowledge and training, but you have to be committed.
GREENNow, as far as the courage to do that, you know, we're going into a burning building when everyone else is coming out. So, that's just something that you have in you, the desire to serve, the desire to make an impact every day. And that requires courageous decisions and actions. And some of that can be taught, but some of it comes from you and who you are, and everyone can't do this job. But, again, the training, being physically fit, having that compassion to be able to want to help people when they're having a bad day, being there to pretty much save the day. There's no 9-1-2, so when you guys call 9-1-1, we have to answer that call each time.
NNAMDIAnd sometimes it has to be fairly traumatic for you. How do you deal with that?
GREENYeah, absolutely. So, our firefighters see different things every day. You know, every call is different, and some things are unimaginable when they -- you know, they leave lasting impressions. So, what we focus on for our firefighters is our mental wellness. We have programs and things in place, people they can talk to. So, when they run a call that keeps them up at night or something -- they see something that's traumatic like something with children or, you know, a bad fire, we have the ability for them to reach out and call our EAP services. They can talk to a clinician and take some time off at home and get better.
NNAMDICharlotte in Maryland is four-and-a-half years old, so she has a parent with her. We do permit that sometimes, but, Charlotte, it is your turn.
CHARLOTTEWhy do I want to be a firefighter?
GREENWhy do you want to be?
GREENOkay. I would say that you want to be a firefighter because you want to make a difference. You want to be a part of something greater than yourself and be a part of our family.
NNAMDICharlotte, thank you very much for your call. Charlotte, do you want to be a firefighter?
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much. Keep listening until the end of the broadcast. By the time it's over, you may know a lot more than you do now. Chief Green, how about the equipment firefighters wear from head to toe? What do you need and how much does it all weigh?
GREENRight. So, we talked about that a little earlier. It's 45 pounds added on to what you're already wearing. So, even now, when you see us on calls, we have on our regular uniform. But when there is a fire, a structure fire or not even just a fire, sometimes a rescue or a flood, we have to put on our what we call bunker gear, our PPE, personal protective equipment. And that equipment, that protects us from burns and injuries there.
GREENAnd then you also have your helmet, which, of course, protects your head from anything falling down, any debris. And then we wear what we call our SCBA, our self-contained breathing apparatus. And that helps us breathe in a fire. When there's gases inside the home, when there's an active file it protects our firefighters from breathing anything that may be toxic. So, they have all that.
GREENAnd then, in addition to that, they have a light and radio and gloves. And sometimes there's other equipment that they need to afford the rescue and do what they need to do to get people out safely. So, it can be pretty heavy and cumbersome but that's why we train so that we're able to carry those things and be able to do it.
NNAMDIYeah, well, when the fire alarms goes off, how fast do you have to put on all this equipment?
GREENThey have to have that stuff on in less than a minute, because that's one of the things we teach them in recruit school. They drill on it. It's called the one-minute trill. And at first when you first start it gets pretty hard, but, like anything else, when you do it over and over and over, you get really fast. And it's important because we need to be able to get on that fire truck and get out as soon as we can so that we can get to the emergency.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Chief Green, what is a PASS, or a Personal Alert Safety System, and why do firefighters wear them?
GREENOkay. So, that's attached to the SCBA, which is attached to our breathing device. And, basically, what it does is it protects a firefighter when they become lost or disoriented. It has an alarm on it. We teach our firefighters how to alert other firefighters when they are disoriented, or they're trapped or they're injured. They sound this alarm, and we can hear them in a burning building. Well, we can hear them in a quiet environment, and it's pretty loud. And as soon as we hear it, we know automatically there's something wrong.
NNAMDIHere is 11-year-old Avery, in Virginia. Avery, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AVERYWhy does a fire truck always go with an ambulance?
GREENWow, that's a good question. I'm liking your audience. They really know a lot. (laugh) Okay. So, most of the time, when we dispatch our calls, when you call 9-1-1, depending upon what you call in and say, what the emergency is, it would dictate what we send out the door. A lot of times, if the caller is someone that's really sick, they may need some additional manpower, some additional people to help get them out of the house.
GREENSo, although the ambulance may be doing the medical care, the firefighters that are on the fire truck are helping and assisting the ambulance crew so that we can get you out sooner. And sometimes, the fire truck is quicker or closer. So, a lot of times the fire truck will go first and then the ambulance will come later. But the fire truck is in quarters. That's why we dispatch it that way.
NNAMDIAvery, thank you very much for your call, and good question. Chief Green, let's talk about life in the fire station. How much time do firefighters spend living together, and what do you do when there's no fire or emergency?
GREENWell, it's just a like a family. So, you're there for 24 hours a day. So, they arrive at 7:00 a.m. and they leave the next day at 7:00 a.m. So, that entire time, they're there together, running calls, checking the apparatus, training and doing drills. They also relax. They watch TV. They cook dinner. I know everyone knows that. We always talk about firehouse life and cooking, and that's one of the things that we're very good at.
GREENSo, they laugh together, they eat together, they run calls together, they save lives together. It's an entire day. And then they come back the next -- three days later. So, they work together 24 hours a day and they're in that environment. They also sleep in the same bunkrooms. You know, they're in the same environment together, and it just makes for a real close family unit.
NNAMDISleep in the same bunkroom. What do you do about the snorers?
GREENWell, there's plenty of people that snore, I'll tell you that, (laugh) so someone is not getting any sleep. That's what's going to happen. But, you know, that's part of it with any family. You know, you always have that one, but we have that at every firehouse, and we work through it.
NNAMDIWell, firefighters seem to have a reputation for being really good cooks. Who does the cooking at the fire station?
GREENI think each station has one person generally that's designated the firehouse cook. And whether they like it or not, you're that person. But I think it just comes from, again, that family unit of being together for 24 hours. You kind of learn what everyone likes. And, right now, in this month, we're working on our wellness and physical fitness so we're working on healthy eating and nutrition.
GREENAnd they go out to the store early in the morning and they get everything they need for the entire day. And they plan their meals out, and we cook a lot, because sometimes it could be up to 10 to 12 people eating each setting. So, that's a skill that you have to learn. It's like a Thanksgiving dinner every four days. So, they do a lot of planning and prep, and they take a lot of pride in their meals. And there's some downtime for them to spend time together.
NNAMDIMany kids may be curious about the fire pole, because it looks like it should be in a playground. (laugh) When the alarm sounds, do firefighters really slide down a pole to get from the second floor down to the fire trucks?
GREENWell, believe it or not, we still do. We still have some fire stations that have that. That's one of our traditional pieces. The fire service is rich in traditions. And, initially, it was put in place for our firehouses with two levels to get the firefighters who were upstairs in the sleeping quarters down to the apparatus bay, where the engines and ambulance were, pretty quickly. Because, you know, we have to get out the door within a minute. Our newer firehouses have steps and elevators now. I think we've gotten a little bit more modern, but some of our fire stations still have the poles. They're still operational, and people still use them.
NNAMDILet's talk about the fire trucks and fire engines. What different kinds are there? And I've noticed that sometimes fire trucks have two drivers, one in the front and one in the rear. Why is that?
GREENYes. So, that truck is what we call a tiller truck. It has a turntable ladder mounted on it. And the purpose of that truck really is just to make tight turns and to get that ladder truck into areas where it wouldn't be inaccessible in other places. So, it has a front driver and a back driver. So, when the front driver turns right, the back driver turns left and it turns the back portion of the truck around really tight so that you can get into those tight spaces. And we have some of those places in Prince George's County. We don't have a lot of tiller trucks, but we do have some, and it does require some skill. And it's pretty fun to drive on the back.
NNAMDIWell, after counter steering at the back of a fire truck, do you have to remember to steer normally when you get back into your own car?
GREENYes. I think every firefighter would say, when they get into their minivan or their Mini Cooper, that they're not driving a fire truck when they start heading home. (laugh) And have to remind themselves they have to stop at the red light. So, I think every firefighter has that -- driving a fire truck, it's like -- it's a job that is very rewarding, and it's an experience every day. So, I would say every firefighter that's a driver would say they have to reprogram themselves every morning when they get off work.
NNAMDIFinal question, the firefighters in your department are also trained as EMTs. What do EMTs do, and why do you think it's important for firefighters to know how to do both jobs?
GREENYeah, so our firefighters are cross-trained. Emergency Medical Technician is what that stands for. And that's because we're not just running fire calls. We're also running EMS calls. We're also running dive calls and floods in the basements and puppies down wells. We're an all-hazard department. And what's important for me is that when we arrive on that call, I have someone that can do everything that you need.
GREENSo, cross-training is important. So, that way we can, you know, switch back and forth depending upon the need based on the call. The other thing that we do have is we have paramedics. So, our paramedics is a step higher than our EMTs. I am currently a paramedic. The first fire chief is a paramedic. But that's important, because that's that advanced life care.
GREENAnd for the kids that are listening, those are the people that have the paddles that shock you and give you medicine on scene. Those are your paramedics. And we have a lot of those at Prince George's County, and we're very proud of them.
NNAMDITiffany Green, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids with Prince George's County Fire Chief Tiffany Green was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation on what's happening now in the pandemic with Dr. Leana Wen was produced by Julie Depenbrock.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, the election is just 28 days away. Because of the pandemic, how you vote will likely be different this year, and the process will vary, depending on where you live. We'll discuss how, where and when you can vote, and how to make sure your vote is counted. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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