What’s It Like to Be a Firefighter?

Live burn training gives a town fellow the chance to find out

Wednesday, March 27, 2024
Image of Marshall Grayson wearing a firefighting uniform standing in front of a firetruck.
Marshall Grayson suited up and entered a live burn with the Orange Rural Fire Department in February.

As a Lead for North Carolina fellow for the town, Marshall Grayson has had the chance to get involved in a number of services offered by Hillsborough.  

In February, he attended Orange Rural Fire Department’s live burn training. For eight hours, firefighters trained on a donated house that was severely damaged by a lightning strike. Grayson reflected on the experience.

Suiting up

Since joining the town in August 2023, I have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of exciting experiences. From traveling 95 feet in the air on a ladder truck to joining the Police Department for a ride-along, my time with the Town of Hillsborough has been full of surprises. 

When asked if I would like the chance to act as a firefighter and enter a burning building earlier this year, I immediately said yes. With a mom in law enforcement and a dad in the fire service, I could not pass up the opportunity to see public safety firsthand. 

A few weeks before the burn, I visited the Orange Rural Fire Department to try on gear. I met with Battalion Chief Troy Breashears, who showed me the ropes and made sure I had all the right equipment. It was surprising to see just how many different pieces are involved in full firefighter gear and especially how heavy everything is!  

On the day of the burn, we arrived at the training site just outside the Hillsborough town limits. The house had been struck by lightning last summer, and the owners had graciously donated it for training. Fire personnel helped me and the other live burn guests suit up and adjust our air packs before heading inside.  

Once upstairs, Fire Chief Jeff Cabe taught us about the science behind fire and how fast it can spread. He started by lighting a small pile of hay, which quickly ignited a stack of plywood. It was amazing to see how the room immediately filled with flames, ash and smoke. However, even more amazing was how little heat I felt thanks to the protective gear.  

The flames spread throughout the room and began to reach across the ceiling. For something so destructive, it was beautiful to see up close. We exited the building before the flames became too intense. It was alarming how little visibility I had as we navigated down the stairs. I was thankful to be in a controlled environment and not in the real thing!  

As I exited the house, I left with a much stronger appreciation for the sacrifice firefighters make when entering burning buildings to rescue those in need. Thank you to Chief Cabe, Battalion Chief Breashears and the entire Orange Rural Fire Department for the opportunity to see a glimpse of the amazing work of a firefighter. 

Orange Rural Fire Department 

Hillsborough contracts with Orange Rural Fire Department for fire protection and services throughout town. One way to support Orange Rural is by donating old or damaged homes for live burns. If you have any property to donate, please contact the department at or 919-732-7911.  

Lead for North Carolina 

Grayson serves the Town of Hillsborough as a Lead for North Carolina fellow. The fellowship is a year-long, full-time work program administered through the School of Government at the University of Chapel Hill. Grayson will serve as the town’s management analyst for the Police Department beginning in May.