There is a Deaf volunteer firefighter in New Jersey — who passed fire academy and hopes to pass the state examination to become an official fireman. His name is Matt Gilmore. He is one of several Deaf firefighters in the U.S.
Last Sunday, he was with a group of firefighters from all around the world who went to the new WTC 4 building to climb 72 stories with full equipment to honor the 343 firefighters who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He finished the climb in 29 minutes and was the only Deaf firefighter there. Here is a short clip of his experience.
[Clips of Matt in NYC saying he will climb up WTC #4 to honor a fallen firefighter, Frederick Ill, Jr. He says it was “hell” to climb up the 72 stories and that he threw up, lol. He shows the view from the top of the tower.]
Wow. I asked him to explain more about the stair climb and several other questions about his experiences as a firefighter. Here is the interview — and I must inform you that the ASL might be a little blurred, but here it is.
Hello, my name is Matt Gilmore — everybody calls me “Happy.” I am a volunteer firefighter — I work at a warehouse for my job/pay, but volunteer with the Parkertown Fire Dept, and before that I volunteered at the Barnegat Fire Department. I moved to that department when I moved to a different city.
I’ve been doing this for a year and a half. I’ve gone through a lot of oppression and I have show myself so they can be comfortable with me. They have a lot of trust issues — they are uneasy about hiring Deaf, disabled people (with no arms), or a woman. It is commonplace and you have to work hard to prove them and earn their trust — this is important.
When they ask me, “how do you communicate?” I interrupt them and ask them how they can communicate with a Deaf victim? They will be stumped and invite me to “come in.” That’s how I get in. I went to fire school, but it’s tough because they won’t provide an interpreter. It’s because the NFPA - the National Firefighter Protection Association — says that Deaf people can’t be firefighters because of hearing loss. So I went through school without it, and I did just fine. It’s all visual. It’s all reading, hands on training, and following what others tell you to do. It is no different for me — different for them, but not for me.
Firefighters admit they can’t hear each other — they often use physical touch to get each other’s attention. I use a cochlear implant, so that helps, but most of the time you can’t hear anything, anyways. What helps is that they often use gestures to represent different things, such as “hydrate,” “go back to the truck,” or “360” — which means to check around the house.
I’ve had experience with real fire situations, but they are in training/fire school — I will have a state examination in two weeks and I hope to pass, then I will become a “real certified fireman.” In fire school, you can’t see at all — the mask is one inch thick. But I’m proud because I was the first to find a victim — I managed to find it before the others. Last week I went through an obstacle course — this job is really hard and stressful, but I love the job — I was the first to find the victim there, too. I showed them that I could do it. You’ve got show them.
[Holds picture of fallen firefighter Frederick Ill, Jr. and shows a badge from his experience at NYC on Sunday]
There are 343 firefighters who died — and all who participated in the ceremony were assigned a firefighter. I was assigned with his name. I had to learn his story and his history. I learned that he was a volunteer firefighter and managed to climb up the ranks to be a member of the FDNY. People loved him and sadly he died during 9/11 when the building collapsed. He was missing for a month until his body was found and buried in peace. I found his name at the South Tower.
[Image of Frederick Ill, Jr’s name engraved on a stone memorial]
It was really emotional.
It was really hard to climb the tower — at the 42nd floor, I was really tired. I didn’t know how I could make it to the 72nd. But I made it in 29 minutes. The FDNY average is 14 minutes. I’m getting closer and closer!
Question: Do you have any experiences you want to share?
I was at a structural fire at Long Beach Island - a famous place in NJ. When I got there, I saw an aggressive blaze that was two stories high. It was my first time. I didn’t go in, I stayed outside as I’m not certified yet, I’m halfway there. I saw a firefighter being helped off — he was injured. It made me feel nervous, but I didn’t let it impact me.
Then a man came to me and asked me if his house was okay. I looked at the house and asked, “Is this your house?” He said yes. I looked at it and told him the most important thing was that he was okay. Then I told him that the house was gone — it was destroyed. He had tears in his eyes and said that his parents were gone and that it was their house — now the house is gone, too. It really hit me hard, but I refused to show my emotions. I just reassured the man and continued to work. It is emotional work, firefighters are guaranteed to get PTSD at some point, but I won’t let that happen to me. it is tough. I have to be calm. Even if I know someone died inside, I have to tell family that everything is okay — and let police deal with them — so I can do my job.
Wow, thank you for sharing, Matt. I learned something new from this interview — that there is a human impact in this job, that it’s not just about putting out fires — but that you will deal with people and experience their pain as they see their homes damaged and as they fear for the lives of their loved ones. Thank you for representing us well, Matt.