Inside Station 41: Life as a firefighter


Aida Sarsenova

Station 41 is located in Tampa on 15905 Mapledale Drive.

  Local firefighters were expecting the worst when Hurricane Ian was projected to hit Tampa in late September. The firefighters at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Station 41 only had 12 hours to go to their families and take care of their possessions in preparation for the worst, before all personnel reported for duty for an extended period. Thankfully, the majority of landfall missed Tampa, but the rescuers’ dedication to serving the community goes far beyond times of crisis.

  The rescuers at Station 41 opened up about what life is like inside the station, their careers, and the friendships that feel like family. For Chief Rodney Castro, who has been in the field for 31 years and grew up in a family of firefighters, being around the station has always felt like a second home, “This is what I was born to do, it’s like our family business.”

  The fire crew speaks warmly of their time together, as long shifts created a sense of “second family” at work. The family-like atmosphere resonated through the collective sense of humor, and even mealtime-where crew members often bring in family recipes to share with the rest of the team. With a smile, the firefighters collectively add that their friendship is felt even on their days off, where they know that a helping hand is a call away and that their crew will be there for weddings and holiday parties.

  Captain Paul Marey, who has been on the crew for 22 years and had several other occupations in the past, shares the immense value this job brought into his life. The work schedule has allowed him to spend more quality time with his family. The crew works a full 24-hour shift before spending 2 days off. Captain Marey explains, “I got to spend a lot more time with my son because of this job, than maybe most people do.” Being at the station for roughly a third of their life, the firefighters mention the struggles of missing their children’s’ events at school, and even holidays. However, even with the hardships, each crew member displayed a great amount of pride in the work that they do and the value that they add to their communities. The department works with schools, camps, libraries and more to educate children and give presentations, including showing the fire truck. David Wittenauer, a firefighter and EMT, describes that the department works with public schools to participate in the Great American Teach-In during the month of November before adding, “it’s the best job ever.”

  Their heroic career, unfortunately, doesn’t come without the heavy emotional burdens that follow the fire crew on the shift and beyond. Station 41 receives on average 6 to 10 emergency calls a shift; and within 60 to 90 seconds, a team is out the door and ready to help. The station received a call even during our interview. When asked about some significant moments that have stuck with them, every member would take a deep breath before recounting how the tragic events they witnessed have shaped their career. Robert Leonard, who has been on the team for 17 years, reflects, “You kind of remember the good ones (moments) but you definitely remember the bad ones more. Especially when you reunite with people you ran a call with, or you drive around town and see certain locations or intersections.”

  Many of the firefighters reflected with delight on the start of their careers and getting the call that they were hired. The interview wrapped up with some words of advice and encouragement for those considering pursuing this fulfilling career. Julia Foote, who has been on the team for 5 years, remarks that she has been interested in the medical field but didn’t always see herself working for the fire department. Her husband is also a firefighter at the station, and through him, she met other women firefighters which encouraged her to take the leap, “if you really want to do it, and it’s something you are really passionate about it, go for it and don’t stop.” Devin Page, who has been a part of the team for nearly 6 years, offers some valuable guidance, “Always be willing to listen to what other people have to say. Don’t be set in your ways if somebody got advice or if somebody got a way to do something that is different from the way you were taught.”

  Leonard, encourages aspiring firefighters, “For anybody trying to get on I recommend finding a mentor, make sure it’s right for you, ask questions. Pretty much anyone who is a firefighter loves to talk about it and answer all your questions and then some.” Leaving the fire station, the engine that left the station earlier was returning from their call – the team on board giving me a wave and a smile. I was captivated by the immense sense of warmth shared by the entire crew and their devotion to the safety of our community.

  If you are interested in learning more about becoming a firefighter visit the Fire Science Technology program at Hillsborough Community College: