Not long ago, an endocrinologist emailed us to ask if we knew of any firefighters with T1D who might be able to connect with one of his newly diagnosed patients worried about that career path being blocked to him. We tapped the vast Diabetes Online Community (DOC) and made some introductions. And that got us thinking...

We ought to be sharing more of these stories from around the D-Community, of "real people with diabetes just going about their lives successfully" without letting their illness get in the way. Not Hollywood celebs or nationally known athletes... just regular folk "out in the wild" juggling diabetes with whatever it is they do in life.

So today, please welcome Rick Perry from Kentucky, a lifetime type 1 who is particularly proud of his family legacy in their local volunteer fire department. As it turns out there are two other PWDs in that same station! Here's a quick story from Rick about growing up with diabetes and entering the volunteer fire brigade, following in the footsteps of his father and paving the way for his son to do the same.

 

A Family Legacy of Volunteer Firefighting in Kentucky

Hey, everyone! My name is Rick Perry and I am 43 years old and have been a type 1 diabetic since the age of 18 months old. I feel somewhat blessed that I have never known any differently and never had to adjust to doing things differently.

My parents let me grow up just like all of my friends with the simple exception of eating sweets. I played basketball, baseball, rode bikes, skateboards, and hung around our local volunteer fire department with my dad.

At the age of 13, I was able to join the fire department as a junior firefighter and start learning how to handle various emergency situations. Through all of these activities there were times when I had to slow down or stop to get a bite to eat, but was right back in the thick of things as quickly as possible. 

At 18, I was able to jump right into a firefighter role because I had well over the minimum 150 hours training that is required by the state of Kentucky to be a certified volunteer firefighter. I have been involved with the fire department for 30 years now.

Picking a career wasn’t really an issue. I did consider joining the military out of high school, but wasn’t able to do that due to the diabetes so I went on to a vocational school and earned an Associate’s Degree in Chemical and Refinery Operations. I was blessed to get a job with the best company to work for in my hometown.

I do shift work in a refinery, teach an emergency response team from another industry in my area, and custom paint fishing lures and sell them locally via word of mouth and a Facebook page for Anger Baits Co.

Volunteering is strictly in my off-time. There are no issues with my being diabetic with the fire department, because we are a small community (roughly 2500 residents) and have trouble getting volunteers so there are no limitations or tests required.

As a matter of fact, of the 15 or so volunteers, 3 of us are diabetics! Two of us are type 1 and the third is type 2, so we know to watch out for each other and learn the others' symptoms.

Our department typically runs between 75-100 calls per year, ranging from fires to car accidents to serious medical calls. The state of Kentucky also has no limitations on certification due to a resounding lack of people willing to volunteer their time in today’s busy world.

I’m particularly proud to have followed my dad into the volunteer fire service, and I am also very proud to say that my 20-year-old son is a third-generation firefighter with the same department.

In regard to my diabetes management, a lot has changed over the years. I went from a shot or two a day to multiple shots a day to finally agreeing to an insulin pump. This was a huge step in controlling my diabetes and gave me the peace of mind to go as hard and long as I wanted to in whatever activity that I was involved in.

As years passed, my symptoms of low blood sugars changed and in the last couple of years I have had spells with no warning symptoms at all. I tried one of the popular glucose monitor systems that works with my insulin pump but had terrible results trying to keep the sensors calibrated or even inserted for that matter. I had given up that things were going to get easier any time soon.

But my endocrinologist suggested a different sensor, which leads me to the Dexcom G5 system. After seeing the accuracy of this system after only 3 days of the 7-day trial, and being able to keep the sensor in place, I was sold! My wife loves the fact that the Dexcom system not only reads to a receiver but can also be linked with up to five cell phones. It took a little time to get things cleared through my insurance and get set up for training to start the system, but I can honestly say that the Dexcom G5 system has saved me multiple times in the four short months that I have had it.

The most recent incident was Friday, April 20, 2018.

My fire department was dispatched at about 7:30 a.m. to assist a neighboring department on a house fire, and upon arrival I was asked to lead the roof operation. It turned out to be a chimney fire and not quite as bad as originally thought, but access to the chimney from the roof was difficult due to the steep pitch of the roof as well as being a metal roof. All the safety precautions were taken and followed and I climbed onto the roof to start assisting in extinguishing this fire. After some time on the roof I heard a faint siren and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, then suddenly realized that it was coming from my cell phone inside of my bunker gear.

I knew instantly that it was the “Urgent Low” alarm from my Dexcom sensor which meant my blood sugar was at 55 or below.

I honestly had been so busy that I hadn’t noticed the symptoms, the shaking hands, weak knees, and aggravation. I slowly and cautiously made my way off the roof and had a fellow firefighter get me the instant glucose packages off of our fire truck while I suspended my insulin pump. My sensor actually will only read down to 40 before it gives you a basic “Low” alarm, and I was there within minutes of getting off that roof!

After a short recovery time, we were given the all-clear and my department was released by the incident commander. It was on the ride home that I realized how bad things could have been had it not been for my CGM sensor. A steep metal roof which is incredibly slippery in any shoes, even more so in 40-plus pounds of bunker gear, a 40-pound “air pack” and all the miscellaneous firefighting equipment that I had packed up to do my job.

Again, all precautions were taken, a roof ladder which hooks over the peak of the roof is always used to walk on, but we went a step further to have someone on the other side of the roof holding tension on a rope that was tied to me just in case I slipped. But had anything happened that I would have been unable to get down on my own, meaning I just put another firefighter in a terribly dangerous rescue situation. Thankfully the worst did not happen.

I should add too that my wife has been the greatest spouse possible and has been fantastic in helping me manage all of the changes that have come our way over the last 22 years we have been married. Had it not been for her, I would have never even considered an insulin pump or the Dexcom glucose monitoring system. 

Thank God for Dexcom, and for watching out for myself and my fellow firefighters all these years!!

 

Thanks for sharing your story and for all you do in serving your community, Rick! And props to your son for following in your footsteps.

 

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