A firefighter's fuel

“Lewis? Lewis! Where are you? I can’t see you?” the woman screams in full panic. The woman is pinned between the front seat and steering wheel of her now destroyed truck. The only thing identifiable after the accident is the body of the woman.

“I’m here, I’m right here,” Capt. Lewis Kempf shouts. The woman’s face relaxes, but the worst is yet to come.

Crushed syndrome -- the only thought that runs through the captain’s mind. The woman’s organs are being held in place solely by her body position in the crumpled metal. The woman has ten minutes after being removed from the accident to survive, but the hospital is 12 minutes away…

The Boyhood Dream

Lewis Kempf, 52, Ann Arbor, Mich., dreamed of becoming a fire fighter ever since he joined the Boy Scout’s Police Cadets in Saline, Mich.

“It was something simple to introduce you to law enforcement, but that sparked my interest,” Kempf says.

In high school, Kempf joined Pittsfield Township’s volunteer fire department and fell in love with the firefighting aspect of first responders.

Since then, Kempf has served Ann Arbor Township as fire department captain for over 28 years.

Home Away From Home

“We’re on 24 hours, but the calls don’t come in 8 to 5 every day,” Kempf says. “There are days when we sit around for a couple shifts with no calls, but then the next day it’s one right after the other.”

When a call comes into the fire department, the station has three minutes to receive the report, dress in gear and be in the truck, lights on and responding to the call.

Working 24 hour shifts, Kempf has managed to turn the fire station into a second home, fully equipped with a bedroom and lounge area.

The bedroom resembles a college dorm. Four twin sized beds fill each corner of the room with matching dressers, each comforter a haphazard mix of plaid. Pictures of families and trinkets from children are the only items that allow a personal touch.

“I had a water bed in this room for such a long time, but the chief made me throw it out once the department got new beds,” Kempf says -- laughing.

Not only are the men at the station firefighters, but they also become cooks and janitors to maintain the daily routine of home.

Walking Through a Graveyard

Although 70 percent of calls for the Ann Arbor Township Fire Department are medical related, many tragic deaths have occurred throughout Kempf’s time as a firefighter.

“We had an incident where a lady rolled her car and in the process her head got crushed. It was like a soup can lid being peeled away from the can,” Kempf says as if discussing dinner instead of death.

Kempf tries to prepare each volunteer firefighter at the station for the horrible scenes that are to come.

“Although we know exactly what happened before we see the accident, each bloody body is still a shock,” says volunteer firefighter Jim Fitzpatrick, 20, Saginaw, Mich.

Although Kempf dedicates his life to horrifying scenes, his emotions sometime get the best of him.

“We’re in the service to help people and lend a hand…but it’s hard witnessing the families hurt. I don’t like seeing death.” Kempf says.

Capt. Lewis Kempf views each person, accident and fire not just as “part of his job,” but as a situation that deserves a second chance.

“I’m just looking out.”

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