The two Cherry Hill firefighters share how they got into firefighting, what they love most about the job and how many different types of tasks they have to be prepared to handle.
Each year for Fire Prevention Week, the six stations of the Cherry Hill Fire Department open their doors to residents, giving them an inside look at equipment, vehicles and what their firefighters do every day.
The residents who attend these open houses are typically families with young kids whose eyes light up with wonder when they walk up to a massive fire truck or get to meet one of their neighborhood firefighters.
This fascination with firefighting is what paved the way to a career for Jim Aleski and Phil Cook, firefighters working at Cherry Hill Fire Station 22 on Kings Highway. Both remember how they loved being around the firehouse when they were a kid.
“I grew up in a neighborhood with a volunteer firehouse,” Aleski said. “I grew up across the street from a New York City fire captain. It’s always something I wanted to do.”
“My dad and his two brothers were firefighters, so I definitely grew up into the environment,” Cook said. “I was always going up to the firehouse, getting to visit my dad, seeing the things they do, hearing stories. I saw how happy it made him doing what he did. That really left an impression on me.”
A firefighter’s job involves so much more than battling fires. Aleski said firefighters could be asked to do anything on a given day.
“I like having a job where you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Aleski said. “Every day is different. There’s no mundane routine. It kind of keeps you refreshed. It keeps you on your toes.”
On any given day, a firefighter could be asked to replace a smoke detector, pump water out of a basement or respond to a medical emergency. Then there are the smaller jobs, such as replacing someone’s bike chain or flat tire.
Cook said the best part of all these tasks is interacting with the community and getting to make a resident’s day better through a simple act.
“It may be a small, minor thing we do that we wouldn’t think much of,” Cook said, “but these people are calling 9–1–1 for help, and we’re able to impact them in a positive way.”
The life of a firefighter is busy. When firefighters are not responding to calls, they are usually working on a number of other tasks.
“We’re doing pre-plans of buildings,” Aleski said. “We’re doing public education events. We train every day. We work out here. We almost joke, we have 24 hours a day and sometimes we need more than 24 hours.”
The toughest part of the job for Aleski and Cook is the number of hours they are away from their families.
“We work a lot of hours, we work nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays,” Aleski said. “We both have young children. We’re off a lot, but we work a lot more hours than the normal public does.”
“Being away for 24, sometimes 36 hours can be tough,” Cook added. “When I’m home, my wife is working, so sometimes it could be a week before we can spend some time together.”
Despite having to make sacrifices, Aleski and Cook both love their jobs. They are reminded of their importance in the community any time they help someone in need.
“A lot of times, you can just really see the appreciation on their face,” Cook said. “It makes everything worthwhile.”