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The Life of a Firefighter

As a child, Phillip McKee was a bookworm who spent much of his time studying. After graduating from Yale University, McKee became a firefighter in Arlington, Virginia. Today, he uses what he has learned over the years to help others.

Fighting without Fear

On September 11, 2001, McKee and hundreds of other firefighters responded to an emergency at the Pentagon. The Pentagon is the United States military's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Terrorists had crashed a plane into the huge, five-sided building.

When the firefighters arrived, they ran through clouds of thick smoke and into the fiery building. It was burning out of control. “I've never seen a fire that big,” McKee said. “No one [in my fire company] had ever seen one like that. Nothing prepared us for that.”

In and Out

McKee and many other firefighters spent several hours searching for people and putting out fires. “We kept going in and trying to cool things down, coming out every 45 minutes for new air bottles and a rest,” McKee said.

McKee said that none of the firefighters were worried about their own safety. “You become a firefighter to help other people,” he explained.

A Lot of Heart

Becoming a firefighter isn't easy. Firefighters have to study hard. They learn math and science. They also learn how to put out fires.

“You have to do a lot of math in your head,” McKee said. “You have to calculate how much water you need to put out a fire. If you use too little, you can't put out the flames. If you use too much, the firefighters can't control the hose.”

In addition to learning a lot, McKee said firefighters have to have “a lot of heart.” People become firefighters because they want to help other people. They sometimes even raise money to help people whose homes and belongings are destroyed in a fire.

Since that terrible day back in 2001, the Pentagon has been repaired. Thankfully, not every day is as difficult as September 11 was for McKee and his fellow firefighters. Firefighters all over the nation keep doing their important work. Every day, they put their lives at risk, so that we all can live safer lives.