Sam Zuckerman

“…you hold on to that initial motivation [why you’re here], then that should help guide you through the process and remind you why you’re here to begin with.”

Sam Zuckerman

Sam Zuckerman

Volunteer FFII/EMR

Station 1: Jackson

Where are you from? I’m from here actually. I was born and raised in Jackson: one of the very few. 

What do you do for work? I am a project manager for construction projects around town.

How do you spend your free time? I spend a lot of time with family and friends, exploring the outdoors of Jackson, which is why we’re all here. I don’t know…fishing in the summertime, exploring the parks, skiing in the wintertime. Growing up here, it seems like there are still folks that are starting to migrate back and start families so that’s always fun to reconnect and explore the whole reason why we’re here.

How long have you been a part of JH Fire/EMS? I joined in 2011 but I took a brief hiatus when I went back to grad school in 2013.

What is your role in the department? Volunteer out of Station 1, but I started at Station 7.

What made you want to join? I think it was the classic answer of giving back to the community in kind of an exciting and physically-involved way. There are very few organizations where you can literally change the trajectory of somebody’s life in a day and be there to help them in their worst moments by trying to bring a little light and shed some relief. I was always motivated to do it, it was something I wanted to do for a long time. We had family friends that were part of JH Fire/EMS before the merger and both my folks were park rangers in Grand Teton National Park so there was kind of always a connection between law enforcement and being a part of those groups. My mom worked for the fire department for a couple of years, too, so there were always some threads of connectivity there. 

What are your current certs? Firefighter 2, EMR, and then just sort of the basic stuff across the board that all the rookies get.

What are your future goals in the department? To strengthen the fabric of the combination department by helping it further integrate volunteers and career members to be a more cohesive group and encourage other community members to volunteer.

Favorite part of volunteering? It’s a combination of the camaraderie of the team and the work itself. I don’t want to sound like I’m excited by people having the worst days of their life but… it’s the call of duty I guess. It’s the opportunity to help the community during its emergencies and hopefully make the situation better.

What would you say challenges you the most about volunteering? It depends when you ask that question. What jumps to mind is the time commitment but there’s also some political distraction as well. Focusing on the scope of work while maintaining the pure essence of what we’re tasked to do and not getting distracted by politics or administrative things is tough sometimes. Keeping in mind why we’re all here is crucial to our success. We all have a shared goal and that’s at the core of what we do, but I think that’s one of our biggest challenges as well: remaining focused on those core drivers.

What advice would you give new recruits? My advice for a new recruit would be to always carry in your back pocket why you’re here, or what brought you to the department and what got you excited initially. I think there are certain things that will ebb and flow over your career, but if you hold on to that initial motivation, then that should help guide you through the process and remind you why you’re here to begin with.

What is something you would tell yourself now that you wish you had known when you started? I guess this will be a little self critical, but I would tell myself to dive in a little more head-first and to be more vulnerable in the trainings when it comes to not knowing things. Like that’s why you’re there: to train. Be willing to make mistakes and improve in those instances and be open to creating greater exposure to things that you’re less familiar with. I was kind of a younger guy when I joined, kind of confident, but that’s a principle in the fire department: don’t be overconfident about things you don’t know. I would tell myself to be more open and willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

What is the most valuable trait for someone to have in this line of work? I would say having a desire to learn and adaptability. We’re constantly taking inputs and training every week and you have to have a thirst for knowledge to get better, whether that’s through a formal certification process or familiarity with tools and such…but having that constant pursuit of more is key. So is not getting complacent. Adaptability is key when it comes to an evolving situation, whether with administration or team members or on a rescue scene or a fire scene. Being adaptable in those scenarios, which is easier said than done, and keeping your situational awareness about you the whole time is vital. I think those are two integral traits more so than any hard skills.

Who is your mentor/who do you look up to? Dan Long is probably the guy. I think that he is committed beyond the role that he serves, and in terms of being the conduit between all angles, admin or leadership, he is really the hub of the wheel from my perspective. I really appreciate his continued dedication whether it’s trainings or meals or communication…he’s really an advocate for the people.

How do you approach calls and pagers and leaving at all hours of the night with family and friends? Since my family has been here for a long time and they have worked in emergency services, there’s kind of an understanding that when the call comes in, that becomes the obligation. Not only is there flexibility to respond but it’s also encouraged as honoring the commitment that we’ve made. (Even though it’s challenging to get up in the middle of the night and be gone for an unforeseen amount of time).

Do you have a favorite hazard or call type? I do enjoy the fire side of things for sure, but vehicle rescues are something that we don’t do that often that are pretty interesting and require good coordination. There’s good tool management, it’s a very concerted approach, very hands-on, and super physical. We all like our structure fires, but I think vehicle rescues are a nice combination of EMS and fire rescue.