Becoming a firefighter is no easy task. It requires grueling work, long hours, teamwork and a desire to help others. The Grand Junction Fire Department (GJFD) represents all of these qualities and constantly trains for a variety of emergencies. These first responders are equipped with rope rescue training, fire suppression, and emergency medical care. Because of these caring and well-trained individuals, the City of Grand Junction residents have some of the most qualified professionals providing emergency care during unexpected and stressful situations.
For Grand Junction firefighter paramedic Zach Leyda, taking care of people is a privilege and a big part of what drives him. Seeing people survive and thrive, thanks to the quick care provided by Grand Junction’s first responders, is even more rewarding. One emergency involved a woman whose heart stopped while she was spending time with her family.
“She was in cardiac arrest in front of her family,” Leyda said. “We showed up and within 2 minutes we were able to defibrillate her and get her heart going again. She was even talking to us on the way to the hospital. A few weeks later, she stopped by the station to see if she could make us all dinner.”
During National EMS week at the end of May, Leyda and his crew were awarded a Phoenix Award for saving the woman’s life. The Phoenix Award is given to each dispatcher, EMT, law enforcement officer, or paramedic that was involved in the care of the cardiac arrest patient, who was successfully resuscitated and returned home without significant brain damage. Leyda has received numerous Phoenix Awards during his eight-year career, though he’s not sure of the exact number. “Firefighters approach the job from a perspective of service — it's not really about personal accolades,” said Dirk Clingman, the Community Outreach Specialist at the Grand Junction Fire Department. “By nature, they view success as a result of their team and the hard work they put in, and not as an individual.”
After watching his father serve as a firefighter paramedic near Denver for 25 years, Leyda knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps. “I grew up around the fire service and medical field and that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “My dad really enjoyed his job and I really enjoy mine. It’s a rewarding career that’s constantly challenging and changing. You get a lot of autonomy and can practice critical thinking.”
Grand Junction was at the very top of Leyda’s list of places he wanted to work. “I moved here for the job and I’m so happy I did,” he said. “I like the size of the City and everything recreation-wise is a short drive away. It’s Colorado’s hidden gem.”
Leyda enjoys hiking in the Colorado National Monument, snowshoeing on the Grand Mesa, camping, rafting, rock climbing, and more. “Everything is right here in our backyard - it’s great,” he said.
Leyda was hired by the City of Grand Junction as a paramedic and then he attended the fire academy six months later. The career paths new hires can take has evolved. Applicants are no longer required to hold their EMT certification before being hired. The City of Grand Junction will sponsor a firefighter recruit as a full-time employee, with benefits, while they complete a department-sponsored EMT class.
“If you don’t have your EMT cert, the City of Grand Junction will pay for you to go through EMT school,” Leyda said. “Once you get your EMT certification, you’ll get a few years of experience and then you’ll have the option to go to paramedic school, which is generally an associate degree that the City fully funds. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
“During school, you learn to read EKGs from cardiologists, advanced life-saving techniques like surgical cricothyroidotomy, pathophysiology, and the medications that can be given,” Leyda continued. “It’s in-depth and way beyond what most of the public thinks we can do as ambulance drivers. We are truly a mobile Emergency Room.”
Leyda was recently promoted to a new position within the City of Grand Junction. He now serves as the safety and medical officer, which means he is the District EMS Supervisor on shift and is also the Designated Incident Safety Officer for all major incidents, such as structure fires and major motor vehicle accidents.
“He’s the 50,000-foot-view guy at a scene,” Clingman said. “He’s able to observe, give guidance and coach.” For Leyda, who loves critical thinking challenges, it’s a dream position. “A lot of times, if the crews find themselves in a unique situation where there isn’t a direct policy to follow, they call me, and I give them guidance,” Leyda said. “I like to think of this position as the problem solver’s problem solver. Paramedics are naturally problem solvers, but if they can’t figure something out, I’m the first person they call.”
The City of Grand Junction is currently hiring firefighters and firefighter/paramedic recruits. To learn more about working for the City of Grand Junction Fire Department, check out this video or visit this link. Discover what it’s like to work for the City by checking out what other employees have shared and learn about other open positions by visiting the City of Grand Junction job board.