Firefighters are called many things—heroic, strong, and fearless are the first that come to mind—because of the risks associated with their job. But while their brawn and bravery often define them, they also possess quieter qualities that don’t often make the nightly news. Rescue engineer Cody Philbin with the Fresno Fire Department is a perfect example. His ability to communicate using American Sign Language is not a flashy skill (it quite literally doesn’t make a sound), yet it’s one that brings immeasurable relief to the deaf individuals he encounters on emergency calls.
Philbin began his career with the Fresno Fire Department almost 13 years ago. His sign language skills helped him get the job. He’d started learning ASL in high school, for no other reason than it sounded fun and the next level of Spanish he wanted to take was not being offered at his school. He continued learning sign language in college and got the call to interview in Fresno a couple years later after being confident enough with his skills to check the box on his application.
As a rescue engineer at station 4, Philbin drives and operates the engine and performs firefighting duties when he’s not running the rig. And if a call comes in somewhere in the city that requires his sign language skills, he heads over to help. That is, if Captain Mark Harvey, the department’s interpreter, is not on duty. “I guess I’m the next best thing,” Philbin says. He’s being modest. Another one of those understated qualities.
Here, Philbin talks about how his ability to sign got him hired in Fresno, a memorable call when sign language became front and center, and how his niece and nephew help him keep his skills sharp.