His second time on a fire engine, Jalen Arnold rode to a call with the Charlotte Fire Department. They arrived to find that a boy had opened a radiator and it exploded on him, Jalen recalled. He helped medics load the severely wounded victim into an ambulance for treatment.
And he was hooked.
Since that day Sept. 11, 2011 Jalen, a recent graduate of Olympic High, has been on several ride-alongs and splits his time between two fire stations. He is sure he wants to become a firefighter.
(Firefighting) is one of those things that gets in your blood, Jalen said. You dont do it for the money. You do it for the heart.
His discovery began when he joined the Charlotte Fire Departments Explorer program during his senior year of high school.
The program is for youth 14-20 who want to learn more about a career in fire service. Held during the school year (September-May), it puts participants in classroom lectures and on ride-alongs with firefighters.
We give them a brief history of what the fire department is about and give them an idea of what its like to work (here), said Captain Stepfan Jones, Charlotte Fire Department Explorer post adviser.
Jones said he met Jalen in fall 2011 and noticed him from the start. Hes very competitive and he likes to do things hands-on, which is what the fire department is all about, Jones said.
Jalen excelled in the physical portion of the program, Jones said: He could pass the Candidate Physical Agility Test if it was given to him right now. He also got high scores on reading and writing tests administered throughout the year.
The greatest thing Ive learned from Captain Jones in the Explorer program is that being a fireman is not a game or a joke. Its a job, and the only way you can do this job is if you love it, Jalen said.
In his free time, Jalen volunteers for the early morning shift at the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department on South Tryon Street. He starts his day by helping the crew clean up and restock the station, wash trucks and take inventory on the stations multiple engines.
It is his role to help make sure every piece of equipment from the jaws of life down to the elevator key are all on board and ready for service. During a June 29 shift that began at 7 a.m. at Steele Creek, Jalen shadowed three firefighters. You love these guys like family ... and they treat me like Im their brother, he said.
Jalen said he has gained discipline by shadowing and helping out at the stations. He admits he lacked that quality in high school.
Up until my senior year, I never took anything seriously, he said. Now that Ive stepped into all this, it has changed my whole mind.
Jalen also interned for Capt. Kelvin Brim at the Charlotte Fire Department High School Fire Academy, a one-week experience for youth in grades 10-12, during which they participate in firefighter recruit training.
Jones has this advice for Jalen: Always be humble and always be willing to learn.
So far, Jalen has not ridden along to a major fire in the Charlotte area, but hopes he can help put out a blaze some day. In the meantime, he said he is always prepared, because every call is serious.
Jalen plans to attend Central Piedmont Community College in the fall and to earn his certification as an emergency medical technician. At the end of this year, Jalen will take the firefighter examination, which includes both written and physical tests. The latter includes dragging hose, climbing stairs, picking up saws, pulling a ladder and climbing through tunnels, among other challenges.
I want it really bad, Jalen said. The people you come across can and will be having the worst moments in their lives. Youre there to try your best and make things as close to better as possible.