MANSFIELD – Jermaine “Jerry” Lanier likes the kind of job where two days’ work is never the same.
So the random, utterly unpredictable nature of working in a fire department turned out to the perfect environment.
Late last year, when the Mansfield Fire Department held its first annual awards ceremony in several years, the 17-year veteran was chosen by a departmental committee, as 2016 Firefighter of the Year. During the awards ceremony, he was referred to as a “model firefighter.”
“It was very humbling, because a lot of guys could have been chosen for that award,” he said.
Firefighter Marc Caldwell, who had been assigned to recruit new firefighters, approached him, and Jim Bishop and Chris Speelman, eventual assistant fire chiefs, as well as firefighter friend Kevin Lindsey, “talked me into taking the test.”
“I threw my hat into the ring, to see what would happen,” said Lanier, who was hired in 1998.
A 1991 Mansfield Senior High School graduate, Lanier had attended Ohio Dominican University earning a communications degree with intentions of working behind the scenes in broadcast production.
He’d worked for a couple of years at Newman Technology, and at General Motors for a short time, as well as for Nationwide Insurance in Columbus
But he was intrigued by the idea of becoming a firefighter.
“I think it was an opportunity to help people. I liked the idea of doing something different every day. Also, there was the adrenaline (the career rush of responding to an emergency call),” he said.
Lanier’s father worked at GM, and his mother worked for the phone company for many years, “were just happy if I was happy. They supported me either way,” he said.
He was hired onto a roster of 100 firefighters working in a mid-sized city, so the job involved not only responding to fire calls, but learning skills as an EMT.
He credits co-workers close to his own age, who had worked at other departments before being hired in at Mansfield, for helping a crew member who was relatively green get off to a solid start and hone his skills. Firefighters Mike Carey, Joe Lucas, Matt Shafley and Troy Reed were among those who helped him, he said. “These guys had fire know-how. … “
Lanier thinks co-workers chose him as 2016 Firefighter of the Year because he has tried to stay professional no matter what the situation, “hopefully being easy for other firefighters to work with, and having a positive attitude.”
He puts a premium on the teamwork required in his chosen career. Though he and his co-workers aren’t shy about poking fun at each other — spending 24 hour shifts together, they get to know each other, warts and all — they’ve got each other’s backs, he said.
Asked what calls he particularly remembers responding to, Lanier didn’t mention the biggest fires — though he has been called out to some of those.
The calls that left the deepest impression on him were the ones which involved people he knew, he said.
Having connections with people in the community “tends to make you invested” in the outcome, good or bad. “Whatever the situation you go into, you want to somehow make it better,” the firefighter said.
Lanier has worked at Station 3 (Sunset Boulevard) for the past few years, “but I’ve worked at Ones (downtown), Twos (Brookwood Way) and Fours (South Main).”
“Like with many jobs, one of the best parts about being a firefighter is your co-workers. That (aspect) is probably magnified, for us, since we spend 24 hours together,” putting in day-long shifts before the next crew takes over.
Over the 18 years since he was hired, some things have changed. When Lanier started, the department hadn’t yet taken over hospital transport duties (city EMTs treated patients at the scene, but private ambulances took them to the hospital). “Now, transport is probably 85 percent of what we do,” he said.
And staffing has fallen from nearly 100 to about 90, despite substantial growth in call volume over the years, he said.
Numbers were scaled back, as cuts were made to help the city get out of fiscal emergency several years ago.
“Like a lot of places, we’re doing a lot more with less,” the firefighter said.
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