Desert Vista grad Cole McCarthy realized his life’s dream of becoming a firefighter by finding a position in Gilbert.
Kelly Athena/ AFN Contributor

Cole McCarthy grew up in Ahwatukee, dreaming like many children do about being a firefighter some day.

A year ago, McCarthy landed a job with the Gilbert Fire Department, beating out 1,200 other applicants vying for the job within the first three hours it was posted.

McCarthy attended Desert Vista High School, graduating in 2014. Half of his day was spent learning fire science at East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT).  

He worked at a local restaurant making and delivering pizza. “That’s where I first learned customer service and teamwork,” he said.

“During my EMT course at Mesa Community College, my instructor set me up with ride-alongs with a Gilbert fire truck. I had some good mentors.”

He’s ended up on that same white fire truck after serving stints in Sierra Vista and Bullhead City.

His 24-hour shifts run on-off for five days before four straight days off.  

His gray bunkroom flashes bright red and sounds alarms while a computer scrolls information each time a call comes in. His station averages six to eight calls per day.

He gets his choice of taking a big red curvy slide and hurrying downstairs, or sliding down a long silver pole to get to the engine truck.

His gear is neatly arranged with his uniform slid down around his boots, his oxygen tank and helmet nearby.

“Wearing a firefighting uniform is like wearing an oven mitt over your body,” said McCarthy, sweating from under firefighting gear weighing 70 pounds as he demonstrated hose technique.

All firefighters are first trained as emergency medical technicians.

Ninety percent of the calls to the fire station are medically related, many involving people who feel chest pain.  

The fire station features an ample upstairs area with an immaculate kitchen with a gas grill, three big stainless-steel refrigerators (one for each of three crews), and an island.

The kitchen opens to a family room-like area with three rows of king-size armchairs in front of a large-screen TV. Downstairs contains a workout room, where he is required to do 90 minutes of activity per day, his bunkroom and office space.

“We try to eat healthily,” McCarthy said. “We go out and buy whatever meat is on sale and some vegetables and cook it up. The crew doesn’t trust my cooking too often.”

McCarthy was recently involved with containing a home fire. The fire started in the kitchen and quickly spread to the garage.

They used a K12 circular saw to get into the garage, and then put a ladder against the side of the house and opened up the attic, which was full of flames.

The engine truck holds 10-, 14- and 24-foot ladders, three 200-foot attack hoses and larger supply hoses that fit onto fire hydrants, as well as various axes, medical kits, air splints, and drills.

On each call, the engineer drives, the captain sits in the front and two firefighters sit in the back. One firefighter handles the hydrant, while the other handles the nozzle.

Anytime there is a car accident with possible injuries or a home medical problem, the fire department is dispatched. It also gets occasional calls for how to shut off a home smoke alarm or help to get a kitty caught in a tree.

Each department consists of a chief, an assistant chief, a deputy chief, battalion chiefs, captains, engineers and firefighters/EMTs.

“Community volunteers are also an important part of our station,” said McCarthy.

His dad, Brian McCarthy, is an engineer at Honeywell and his mom, Jan, is a well-loved and admired hairdresser in Ahwatukee.

“My dad told me to find something that I love and am passionate about, and I was drawn to this career,” the younger McCarthy said.

Sometimes dreams do come true.

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