Friday, May 27, 2022 |
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Firefighter, Lihue Fire Department
By Tom Finnegan – The Garden Island
Lihu‘e Firefighter Jason Ornellas is one of those guys who is truly thankful. For 16 years, Ornellas, 38, has had the task of picking up after a fire or accident. In the process, he’s seen life at its grimmest, and it’s made him all the more thankful to be able to come home and hold his son at night.
“What I’ve learned through my job is that you’ve got to appreciate life every day for what it is,” he says. “In this job, I’ve seen all kinds of tragedy. And any day, it could all be gone.” That’s why Ornellas spends his days living life to its fullest. An average work week requires three, 24-hour days on. That gives him four days off to let loose and really live, he says.
“I usually go golfing or go to the beach with my son,” he says. Or cut the lawn at home. If it all sounds kind of domestic, that’s OK, Ornellas says. To him, enjoying family is the essence of living.
“I guess you can say I’ve mellowed a bit,” he admits, especially since his Air Force days, when he worked as a civil engineer.
But at the age of 22, this Kapa‘a High School graduate heard the call of Kaua‘i. It was time to head home.
“I really missed Kaua‘i, and I wanted to come back and give something to the community,” he said.
Firefighting offering him the pay he was looking for and a career that was challenging enough to keep him interested.
“This job is constantly changing,” he said. “Being on the HAZMAT (hazardous materials) team, you’re always getting new products, and your job is constantly evolving. You have to upgrade your knowledge.” Ornellas admits that the work is tough, especially when he spends so much time away from family. A typical person spends 40 hours a week at work. Firefighters like Ornellas spend 69 hours a week at work. The result is that he ends up knowing as much about his coworkers at the Lihu‘e Kaua‘i Fire Department station as he knows about his family.
“These guys are just like my second family,” he says. “It really teaches you to be patient.” But even after 16 years, Ornellas is still thankful for his job.
“Every day when I come to work, I’m still thankful for the opportunity to come and do this,” he said. “This is truly rewarding work.”
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