Fighting Fire as a Freshman

Posted February 27, 2024, 11:05AM

A first-year student at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is already a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT).

Diel Rhinehart, who plans to major in nursing, joined a cadet program in the fire department of Prince Georges County, Maryland, when he was 16 years old. His high school in Washington D.C. had a career readiness program and from 7 to 10:45 a.m. every weekday, Rhinehart trained.

“There were fires started by our instructor that we had to put out,” Rhinehart said. “With smoke in a building, we had to find our way through a maze.”

He became certified as a firefighter his junior year of high school and as an EMT in his senior year. That same senior year – a Sunday in January 2023 – a fire started in his family’s home.

The family had returned from church when his mother asked his younger brother to boil some eggs. His brother turned on the wrong burner, which ignited a small pot of grease left over from the previous night’s meal. In the meanwhile, his brother had left the kitchen.

His brother returned to the kitchen and found the pot on fire. He dashed water on the fire but it continues to burn.

“He came running upstairs and said, ‘fire!’” Rhinehart said. “At first, I didn’t believe him. But then I smelled smoke.”

Rhinehart told his family to get out of the house and then rushed downstairs. “I smothered the fire with enough baking soda so I could grab the pot with my hands,” Rinehart said. “Then I threw the pot outside.”

Shortly after, the fire department arrived. “Is this your house?” asked a battalion chief that Rhinehart knew. “I can’t believe it. I’m so proud of you.”

Being a firefighter/EMT can be stressful. “For me being so young, I’ve seen some things, being a firefighter,” Rhinehart said.

Once Rhinehart responded to a motorcycle accident. The rider had lost control and flew into a sign, which decapitated him.

“I had to pick up his head and return it to the body,” Rhinehart said.

Another time he performed CPR on a six- or seven-year-old boy. That boy lived. Another time, however, Rhinehart responded to the suicide of an 11-year-old.

“I had to carry the body outside,” Rhinehart said. “To see the parents yelling, screaming, crying – it was just a lot.”

Rhinehart occasionally watches television shows about firefighters although he laughs when asked if they are accurate.

“We can’t ride in the (vehicles) with our helmets and they do it all the time,” Rhinehart said. “They get dressed before they get on the vehicles and we get dressed on the way to the call.”

Similarly, fire poles in stations are becoming a thing of the past. “It causes a lot of injuries to the crew and they are taking it out of all stations,” he said.

At NCCU, Rhinehart has found it useful to be part of the African American Male Initiative.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Rhinehart said. “If I am feeling down one day, I can turn and talk to one of my brothers. There are great mentors. It’s a safe space where we can talk about things like what’s it’s like to be a man in this society. Growing up without a father, that’s important to me.”

His career goals are to alternate working as a pediatric nurse with being a firefighter/EMT. Rhinehart’s long-term goal is to work his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming a fire chief.

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