By Jack Lambert, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Jan. 18 — Trey Small sits down and his self-confidence is the first thing you notice.
Back straight, staring dead ahead. Small says at the beginning of the conversation, “I interview well, you’ll find out.” And by the end, you believe him.
The second thing you notice are his hands.
On Small’s right hand, there is only a thumb and index finger. On the left, he wears a prosthetic. The injuries are a result of a fireworks accident when Small was 17.
He spent the summer between his junior and senior years of high school undergoing multiple operations after his accident.
Now, Small is a professional firefighter. He was sworn in with his fellow Anne Arundel County officers of Class 51 on Friday afternoon, one of 41 graduates. Soon he will be stationed with the Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Department and, if all goes well, will start six months from now as a permanent firefighter at the Marley Fire Station.
“There’s not a single task in the emergency services that I have not been able to perform,” he said. “There is never one incident where I’ve said ‘Ahh, I can’t do this. Somebody else is going to have to do this for me.'”
Small grew up in Lewes, Del. At 22, he moved to Dover for his job as department manager with Lowe’s Home Improvement. He ended up moving next to a fire station, which kept him up at night with its constant sirens.
One sleepless evening, Small headed down to the station to see what the noise was about. He ended up applying for a spot as a volunteer.
“They told me you can take this as far as you want to go and at any point [if] you say you’ve had enough, nobody is going to look down on you for that,” he said. “I went much further than I ever thought possible.”
After 13 years as a volunteer firefighter in Dover, as well as six years as a fire dispatcher, Small applied for a job with the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. Other firefighters with the Dover station had already applied, and Small had heard good reports.
Around the same time, he met his girlfriend Sarah Hubbard, 25. Hubbard was standing by the bar at Cowboy Up Saloon, a country-western spot in Dover, when Small approached her.
“I’m an outgoing individual,” he said with a smile. “She was a good-looking woman standing at the bar, looked like she needed a drink.”
Once accepted into the Anne Arundel County Fire and EMS Training Academy, Small spent 24 weeks at the Millersville proving ground. Challenges at the academy include training for extracting people from burning cars and buildings, written exams and physical challenges.
Small would come home to Delaware exhausted, Hubbard said, before going out to work 20-hour shifts as a volunteer on the weekend.
“He doesn’t let anything stand in his way, no matter what comes along,” she said.
At the end of the program, Small was certified as a firefighter and EMS technician.
“I have figured my way around every challenge in the fire service, from fighting fire to search and rescue to extricating victims from cars,” he said.
Division Chief Keith Swindle praised Small’s work upon graduation.
“Trey has shown tremendous commitment, dedication and focus during his entire recruit school and should be commended for not only that, but for overcoming his disability,” Swindle said.
Small hopes his story will inspire military veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan to seek a career as a firefighter. His burgeoning career with the Anne Arundel department, he said, shows an injury does not bar him from serving the community.
“Throughout my time in the academy, people eventually learned if he can do the job, let him do the job,” Small said.
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