Hinesville Fire Department Capt. Andra Hart likes his job. He said it gives him a sense of purpose just knowing that at any given time he can make a difference in someone’s life. His own life is guided by his personal motto: “You determine your own outcome.”
Hart began his career with the HFD in 1993, about a year after leaving the Army, where he was stationed at Fort Stewart as a vehicle mechanic. He was previously stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., and Camp Essayons, South Korea, and he served eight months in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
He said his mechanical skills often were called on as firemen were required back then to perform vehicle maintenance on the city’s fire trucks. That role, as a fireman-mechanic, diminished some in 1996 when he was promoted to crew chief. Then, in 1998, he was promoted to lieutenant. In 2003, Hart made Hinesville history by becoming the first black captain in the HFD.
“I was extremely proud at that moment, though I wrestled with it at the same time,” said Hart, who on Monday struggled to explain his mixed emotions about breaking a glass ceiling. “I was just as proud of being a firefighter as I was to be the first black HFD captain.”
He said when he started working for the fire department, he knew he’d found his niche in life. Although he wasn’t specifically looking for a job as a fireman, he said when he saw an advertisement in the newspaper, he applied and was selected.
That really wasn’t all there was to it, though. Hart said he first had to pass a written test and an oral interview, then complete training at the Georgia Fire Academy in Forsyth. He said today new fireman also must pass a physical-agility test, and the required training for the basic firefighter course has increased from 40 hours to 340 hours. He said he received the same training new recruits now get at the academy, but it was spread over the entire first year as a firefighter.
As a fire-department captain, the 47-year-old said he is responsible for the training and supervision of 13 other firemen on his shift, including two lieutenants, three engineers and eight firefighters. Each shift consists of 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty, he said.
Hart talked about several memorable moments when he and his crew saved lives and homes. He recalled saving a patient who was found with no pulse and was not breathing. He and his team used cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive him as they transported him to the emergency room. He also recalled the spring of 2011 — the year of the big fires in Long County. His crew helped other first responders from surrounding counties put out the fires in Long County. Then, only weeks later, they battled a large fire on Airport Road.
He said the Airport Road blaze was one of the worst he can remember. It almost got away from them and would have burned Happy Acres Mobile Home Park.
“Brush fires are extremely dangerous,” Hart said. “To me, they’re even worse than most house fires. When the wind gets behind those things, they can get away from you.”
In addition to putting out home and brush fires, Hart said he also is the public safety-education coordinator. In this role, he coordinates with schools and other organizations that have asked for instruction on fire safety and fire-safety devices. It’s his firemen who actually conduct the classes that teach youngsters to “stop, drop and roll” in order to prevent being burned in a fire.
He also stresses home-owners and renters ensure their residence is safe by installing and changing the batteries for smoke detectors and “stove-top fire-stops.” Noting that kitchen fires are the No. 1 cause of home fires in Hinesville, Hart advised residents get a fire extinguisher for their kitchen. As he reiterated the high risk of kitchen fires, which usually are caused by leaving something on the stove, he said a fire extinguisher is necessary to put out a grease fire. He also advised residents who use natural gas to get a carbon-dioxide alarm for their home.
“I know this is what I’ve always wanted to do because I like helping people,” he said. “This job is very rewarding.”