Captain Lavender: Life Flight Rescue, Firefighter, and Humble Superhero

Caylee Caldwell, Editor-In-Chief

With a cup of dry Lucky Charms in hand, no milk, no bowl, and no idea what the day might bring, captain Kyle Lavender is ready to set about his daily routine until the alarm sounds.
Not unlike the bat signal that would call Batman in his comics, the alarm calls Lavender and his crew to life-saving action. Because in a way, captain Lavender is a superhero of his own, though he doesn’t view it that way.
No, he doesn’t have a cape, pointy ears, or an imprinted bold letter ‘L’ across his chest. What he does have is a jacket, a helmet, a team at his back, a well-trimmed mustache, and a S.W.A.T vest somewhere in the back of his loud and proud firetruck number 11.
Captain Lavender is a firefighter at station 11, where he not only fights fires, but also helps with car accidents, unconscious persons, cats who have found themselves up trees, and almost everything in between. People don’t seem to know just how much firefighters really do, and how many situations they’ve actually seen.
“You always say you’ve seen everything and you know you haven’t seen everything,” Says Lavender.
Captain Lavender has delivered more than 30 babies, works Life Flight on his days off, and once even performed a swift water rescue. It is common for firefighters to do multiple types of life saving, and all firefighters are medically trained.
“Most of the people here are type A personalities and more knowledge is better. You just always want to do more and find another challenge,” Says Lavender
According to Lavender, every station has a personality. When the calls start rolling in, how schedules are planned, or how a crew interacts, are all major parts of this personality.
Lavender and his crew work in two-day shifts, then get four days off. Many will work second jobs to help pay the bills. Considering how much firefighters work, they are often underpaid, according to the International Labor Organization. Despite being in the face of danger, firefighters don’t always get to have the same health protections as other jobs. So for captain Lavender, the job is really a labor of love.
A typical day in the life of this firefighter crew starts with checking the engine, the medical supplies, the water tanks, and everything that a firefighter needs to save lives. They will pool their money and go shopping together for meals, being lucky enough to have members volunteer to cook instead of having to draw straws or play cards as some stations have to do. They even have a designated treat baker — Brian Geonetti, the medic. After lunch, crew members have time for quiet study and then working out or relaxation after 5:00.
Firefighter crews wake up together, train together, eat together, shop together, and rescue together. They are one big family.
“We spend almost half our life with this family. And every five weeks, we get each of our families to come in and have dinner with us. So all of our families get to meet each other and spend time together,” Lavender says.
This family is also there when times are rough. Firefighters see a lot more deaths and fatal injuries than people know about. People call 911 in emergencies and while some emergencies may be the delivery of a baby or a cat that won’t come down, there is a darker side to the job that crew members must cope with.
“I was at a family part one night and something came on the news and one of my kids said ‘did you go on that call dad’ and I said yeah. The news mentioned there were fatalities on scene and my aunt said ‘you saw dead bodies?’ I’d been doing this for like 15 years and I said, ‘yeah, what do you think I do?’” Lavender says.
Firefighters see a dead body almost every week, if not more. Seeing these types of things and witnessing these types of scenes, they have to have a crew they trust and that trusts them so they can cope.
“You know someone is watching out for you and you’re watching out for someone else,” Geonetti said.
Lavender copes by going out to a golf course on his days off, sometimes with other people and sometimes just alone where he can think by himself. But he can’t go out on the green whenever he wants, and having his crew at his back — and having their backs as well — creates an environment of safety. Suicides are at an all-time high with police and firefighters, especially so with the latter.
“We can go see something and it’s just horrific, and while you’re doing it, you don’t think a lot about it, you just take care of the people that need to be taken care of,” Says Lavender. “But when you get done you realize that’s someone’s sister, that’s someone’s daughter, or mother, and that’s when all the not good thoughts creep in and unfortunately everyone has to deal with that differently.”
But it’s the hard days that also make the job so worth it. Saving people and helping families, friends, or strangers is why every member of the crew decided to be what they are. They are 911.
“There’s something altruistic, when someone is having the worst day of their life, you’re going to help them and you’re going to make it better. And better may be that you actually fix the problem, or better may be you hold their hand because their loved one is dead and you help them through it,” Lavender says
Firefighters have to be able to assess a scene as soon as they get there and decide what kind of help they will be providing, how they need to get involved or if they need to contact someone else to help. They just won’t know what it’s going to be for sure until they get there and they have to figure out how to be the solution and not just more of a problem.
“You show up to a scene and [people] are going a hundred miles an hour and you either have to decide to catch up to them and go 100 or slow it all down,” Geonetti says
Almost every new firefighter or medic has had to pace a scene and sometimes pace themselves. Older crew members liken all new life savers to ‘trauma junkies’, only ready to see the intense stuff, but they know it’s just another bad memory. But finally seeing that trauma can be overwhelming and it takes time to learn how to move with the flow of the moment and do what needs to be done to help.
It has even happened to the level headed, strong minded Captain Lavender in his early days as a medic. It was a car accident with a giant pickup truck and a tiny car, with a woman trapped in the back. With an older coworker at his side, Lavender took the call.
“I remember getting on scene and having our equipment and just seeing mangled cars and she was beat up in this little car and I froze. I just froze. My partner, Cathy, jumped in the car and started doing all kinds of stuff that I was supposed to be doing and just took over. Just did it. We got her halfway to the hospital before I finally started to catch my breath,” Lavender said.
It only happens once though, before they realize that the time they take hesitating, freezing, or waiting is time that’s slipping away from somebody who needs it.
It’s a lot of stress, a lot of bad memories, and a lot of quick thinking. But it is also a lot of saving lives and being the safe place that people need.
“I still think it’s the best job in the world. I’ve been doing it 24 years and I love being here, I love being here with my crew, I love what we do,” Lavender said. “There are parts of it that I don’t enjoy, but we’re pretty darn lucky.”