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Fairfax Co. fire captain says military experience mirrors fire service

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Captain Marc Davidson didn’t start out with the goal of becoming a firefighter, but when he transitioned out of the Marines it ...

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Captain Marc Davidson didn’t start out with the goal of becoming a firefighter, but when he transitioned out of the Marines it seemed like the right path.

He was trying to figure out what to do next in his life, and the notion of helping people in emergencies was a natural extension of what he’d been doing previously in the military.

Davidson became so enthusiastic about that idea that he eventually launched a project, specifically trying to help transition veterans from the military into the fire service.

“One of the key things I always bring up is that sense of team work in a small unit,” Davidson said. “It’s very similar to being in the military.”

Davidson has helped with his department’s recruitment, sometimes going directly to military bases and trying to find people who are transitioning out.

The effort has been a constant, passionate theme for Davidson throughout his nearly 30 years on the job in Fairfax County.

“I’ve done a couple videos where I interview folks who have made that transition to the fire service,” Davidson said. “The idea of public service and continuing to serve in a team environment just makes a lot of sense.”

An interconnected region

Northern Virginia is a complicated area with numerous dense communities right next to each other, including Fairfax City, Arlington County, Alexandria and Loudoun County, just to name a few.

It makes relationships between all the different emergency departments more meaningful.

“Northern Virginia was one of the first regions that recognized the need for first responders to be interoperable,” Davidson said.

The goal is to have a system that allows a person to call 911 and get immediate help from the closest resources, regardless of whether those resources are stationed within the borders of that person’s community.

Under such a system, people in emergencies don’t necessarily have to worry about where they are.

“It’s not perfectly seamless, but it’s pretty close,” Davidson said. “It’s a good example of removing barriers so that we are truly taking care of the citizens first and the jurisdiction boundaries are almost irrelevant.”

Being interconnected was especially helpful in 2005 when various Northern Virginia first responders were sent south to help with the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

“It was the clearest example of how well all the Northern Virginia departments can work together,” Davidson said.

Several different departments contributed equipment and personnel, sending them down to temporarily replace fire resources in New Orleans that had been wiped out by the storm.

“We operated down there for months,” Davidson said. “Some of the agencies there were honestly kind of amazed at how well we worked with each other and how normal it was for us.”

It’s all about fire prevention

When it comes to his job, “helping the citizens and the community” is the most satisfying part, Davidson said.

“Sometimes it’s not even during those big emergencies, but rather the little moments,” he explained. “Helping just one person early in the morning with a medical issue can actually be more rewarding.”

Another way Davidson helps the community is by telling people how to prevent fires.

He urges everyone to make sure that extension cords and electrical outlets aren’t overloaded and that fuel products are stored away from flammable sources.

While that may seem obvious, business or home owners may have items stacked up in a garage or storage room, causing potential fire hazards to be out of plain sight.

“The most important message is to stress the importance of smoke detection systems,” Davidson said. “If you’re a commercial enterprise, in particular, my belief is that you should be obligated to have not only smoke detectors, but have those tied in with an alarm company.”

While smoke detectors can alert people and help them escape a burning building, an actual alarm company can go a step further and immediately get that signal out to local fire officials.

The goal is to get first responders there within minutes.

If they aren’t notified until a neighbor across the street sees smoke, that can already be too late.

“Getting a fire department to respond as quickly as possible not only saves the lives of civilians, but it limits the risk that firefighters have to deal with,” Davidson said.

That’s because firefighters face more danger when a fire has time to spread and gain strength.

“By getting us notified early we help prevent that line-of-duty death or injury,” Davidson said. “The sooner we respond, the smaller the fires are and the less catastrophic the event ultimately is.”

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