Day in the Life of a Wauwatosa Firefighter

Bea Lazarski and Ava Beisenstein

¨I truly believe it’s the best job in the world,¨ explains Wauwatosa firefighter Zak Ruggirello of his childhood dream job. Ruggirello first earned his Bachelor’s degree in Education, but after realizing teaching wasn’t for him, he started working on completing his Fire and EMS Certifications through a tech school while volunteering for a local fire department. Ruggirello has worked as a firefighter and EMS for almost 12 years now, and notes that his inspiration has always remained the same, “as bad as the world seems sometimes, there’s still a lot of good in it and a lot of good people who are all doing their best.”

Being a firefighter is not an easy job and one that comes with a unique schedule, like working weekends and holidays. They work a rotating schedule of 24 hour shifts and an average of 56 hours a week. Firefighters pass the time with a range of activities such as station duties like cleaning, morning meetings, working out, and crew meals. They also have daily training, such as a table talk or a hands-on activity, to learn new skills and keep their past training fresh. However action packed their day might be, “all of these activities take a backseat to when a call for service comes in … we immediately drop everything and respond to whatever the call might be.” No day is the same as a firefighter, and every call can be something unique or unexpected. One of his most exciting experiences was his company’s response to fires during the Sherman Park Riots of 2016, where he helped respond to four fires, two of them being in the center of the riots. Remembering the experience, Ruggirello comments, “both exciting and nerve wracking at the same time, it was never something I expected to experience.¨ Understandably, at times the job can be incredibly stressful, but it’s also exhilarating to have a call that “pushes your skills and knowledge to the limit. Once everything is said and done, being proud of the job you’ve done as a team.”

His biggest advice for people looking to become a firefighter is to join fire departments through volunteering or paid-on-call work to gain job experience. Tech schools offer an Associates Degree in Fire Science and State Certifications in Firefighting and EMT, and many departments have sponsorships that may help pay for the schooling needed. The Wauwatosa Department currently has an internship program which will pay for school and offer a job at the end of a successful internship. Although it can be stressful, it is a rewarding and exciting career that makes a positive impact on the community.  Not to mention, “it’s pretty sweet to drive around in a fire truck.”