Firefighter Focus Friday: CJ Kiel
CJ Kiel's journey to becoming a firefighter at New Hanover County Fire Rescue is not just a career choice; it's a legacy and a calling. From his early days in grade school, the fire service was a part of his life, not just as an observer watching his father and brother serve in New Jersey but as a dream that quietly grew in his heart. Despite detours through college and carpentry school, the siren call of the fire service—its sense of community and brotherhood—was irresistible. In the Spring of 2018, Kiel found his true calling and joined the Fire Academy, stepping into a world where every challenge is matched with a reward, and every hard day brings a sense of fulfillment unlike any other.
For Kiel, firefighting is a tapestry woven with threads of profound gratification and relentless demands. It's a career that asks for everything: physical strength, mental resilience, and a heart big enough to carry the weight of selfless dedication. However, it's important for firefighters to prioritize their own well-being and practice self-care to meet the demands of each call they go out on. "The better I take care of myself, the better I can take care of my family at home and my family at the station.” Kiel reflects, “This means that I am also better equipped to take care of the civilians of New Hanover County." His approach to balancing the intense demands of his profession with his personal health is a delicate dance of self-care, open communication, and an unwavering commitment to those he serves.
Within the fire station, a unique sense of camaraderie blossoms, fueled by the shared experiences of firefighting and the unbreakable bond that develops between colleagues. It's a brotherhood forged in the heat of the flames and the solidarity of the team. For Kiel, the fire station becomes more than just a workplace. It's a second family, where he finds support, understanding, and a shared purpose that transcends the demands of the job.
Together, they share meals, workouts, and long hours, each moment strengthening the bonds that become their lifeline in the heat of a call. The weight of the job can be heavy, but the emotional backbone of his life is found in the support of his colleagues. They offer him a sense of belonging that is essential to his well-being, and their shared strength helps him carry the burden of his duties with a little more ease. Within the walls of the fire station, Kiel discovers more than just a workplace; he finds a steadfast community, a reliable haven in both prosperous and challenging times.
Kiel's philosophy towards preserving his well-being is deeply holistic, meticulously integrating aspects of physical fitness, team cohesion, and psychological wellness. At the heart of this regimen lies the fire station gym, transformed into a sanctuary of shared effort and mutual encouragement. Here, camaraderie is nurtured with each repetition, each lift, and each shared moment of exertion, creating an atmosphere where bonds are strengthened as much as muscles. In this space, resilience is not merely a byproduct but a deliberate goal, meticulously forged in tandem with physical prowess. For Kiel, this dedication to physical fitness transcends mere occupational necessity; it represents a pivotal foundation for mental health. Amidst the unpredictable and often chaotic nature of his profession, the discipline and focus required for maintaining physical fitness become a haven, offering a sense of control and stability that is both grounding and rejuvenating. This holistic approach is a testament to Kiel’s understanding that a firefighter's strength lies not just in physical capability, but in the unison of mind, body, and the spirit of the team.
At the center of Kiel's world is the power of communication and mutual support. The kitchen table at the firehouse becomes a sacred space where they share laughter, and lift each other's burdens, and meals become more than just nourishment for the body—they nourish the soul. In many firehouses, including Station 19, the kitchen table serves as a central hub for team bonding and communication. Here, amidst the clatter of dishes and the aroma of home-cooked meals, the firefighters engage in a shared ritual of preparing and enjoying food together. At Station 19, this responsibility is democratically rotated among the team members, fostering a sense of community and shared duty.
However, when it's Kiel's turn to cook, his role as a "Tender Life" driver, with its inherent unpredictability and the possibility of being reassigned to different stations without notice, adds a layer of complexity to this simple act of team bonding. Despite these logistical challenges, Kiel remains committed to nurturing his team's camaraderie and well-being through his culinary contributions, understanding that the act of sharing a meal goes beyond mere nourishment. It's a gesture of care and solidarity, crucial in a profession where mental fortitude is as important as physical strength. These moments around the kitchen table are not just about food; they are invaluable opportunities for open, heartfelt conversations, allowing the firefighters to unwind, connect, and reinforce their support network - an essential aspect of maintaining mental wellness in a demanding and often stressful line of work.
Outside the fire station, Kiel finds solace in spending time with his loved ones, including his significant other, family, and beloved dog. The moments spent in leisure, such as walking his dog, playing pickleball, or balancing on a slackline, help him to shed the stress and strain of his profession. They provide him with a sense of peace and rejuvenation which he considers a crucial counterbalance to the rigors of his job.
But it's his love for animals, particularly dogs, that brings a special kind of healing.
"Calls with dogs are my favorite, they instantly destress me. Just looking at them and seeing them wag their tail automatically makes me happy," Kiel shares with a smile. “Dogs radiate positivity and I’d imagine there would be great benefits to having a service animal here at the station— Especially in events where we are coming back from tough calls that weigh on you and can take you out of your game.”
Firefighter/Apparatus Operator CJ Kiel embodies the multifaceted approach necessary for a firefighter to thrive. His dedication to physical fitness, the profound bond with his fire service family, the solace found in personal hobbies, and the joy derived from his love for animals, especially his dog, collectively fortify his mental and physical health, enabling him to excel in this demanding yet rewarding profession.