Dan Hale recalls one wintry day in 2013 when he was treating patients at Lawrence General Hospital, where he is director of pediatrics. There was lots of pneumonia and influenza, and he hustled from room to room, examining children, talking with parents, writing prescriptions.
He was dog tired when he arrived home in Kittery, Maine, to his wife and child. At 3 a.m., his pager went off. Hale raced to the fire station and hopped aboard an engine sent to a basement blaze. He worked the hose line, and later with fellow on-call firefighters dug through burned furniture in the blackened basement to ensure the fire was completely out.
By the time Hale got home and cleaned up, it was time to return to the hospital for morning rounds.
"I felt more tired than usual at work, so I checked my oxygen saturation to make sure I didn't have smoke inhalation or something," he says. "It was normal, so I realized I was just tired."
Hale, 41, leads an unusual double life. By day, he's a doctor. Nights, weekends, and holidays, he's a firefighter. He keeps two pagers on his bedside table. In 2013, he was named Kittery Fire Fighter of the Year, and received the Excellence in Teaching award from the Tufts University School of Medicine.
Though Hale believes that medicine and firefighting are natural cousins, he's among the few who practice both. According to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, none of its members are doctors. "I don't know of any," says Tom Henderson, director of Emergency Medical Services for the union, which represents 12,000 full-time firefighters.
Why does Hale do it? A devout Catholic, he believes in service and feels he's helping his neighbors when he responds to a fire. And he loves the teamwork and camaraderie in the fire house, on the truck, manning the hose. Besides it was love at first sight.
In 2004, a month after he finished as chief resident at Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center, Hale and his wife, Laura, were walking by the Kittery firehouse. He told her: "I'm going in to see if they need volunteers."
Two weeks later, he was running through a training maze in the dark, crawling through tight tunnels with an air pack and another firefighter. "I wouldn't have made it out if not for the teamwork," he says. "I was hooked, in love with it."
That feeling goes back to his childhood in tiny Hartford, Wis., where his grandfather, who was the mayor, also fought fires. His uncle and a cousin are firefighters. Hale would thrill when the sirens went off, the trucks raced by.
There was another childhood influence. He was the sixth of eight children of a teacher and a construction worker who encouraged their kids to hold down two jobs to help with college.
Hale laughs. "They're happy I still have two jobs."
Young Dan knew he wanted to be a doctor and majored in biology at Viterbo University, a Catholic liberal arts school in La Crosse, Wis., His senior year, he spent a semester in Nairobi, where he learned Swahili and lived without running water or electricity. He interned with the Flying Doctors Society, which transports rural patients to medical treatment. Once, they responded to a rhino attack.
While in medical school at the University of Wisconsin, Hale returned to Kenya to work in a hospital dealing with AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. During his residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland, he obtained a grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics to get homeless teens into medical care.
He and his wife, who is also a pediatrician, have a 4-year-old daughter, Anna, who says she wants to be a nurse and a firefighter.
In 2006, Hale used his vacation time at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where he was chairman of the department of pediatrics, to attend the New Hampshire Fire Academy. The next year, he returned for an advanced certificate, learning everything from fire suppression to wearing an air pack, how to use ropes and ladders and operate rescue equipment.
"It was the best vacation of my life," he says, "except for my honeymoon." In Tahiti.
Still, his day job is medicine. In 2011, he came to the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, though he spends most of his time at its affiliate, Lawrence General. He is a pediatric hospitalist, which means he tends solely to patients in the hospital, and he is an assistant professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine.
"We see everything from pneumonia, dehydration, influenza, and appendicitis to accidents and chronic conditions such as cancer," he says. "To see a sick child is terrible. But to see them get better is an ultimate reward."
He recently combined both firefighting and doctor duties. At 4 a.m. on a Monday, his pager went off: There was a fire at an oceanfront home on Kittery Point. The two occupants got out, but a firefighter nearly lost two toes when he pinched them in the hydraulically powered ladder.
Hale pulled off his colleague's boot, washed and dressed the foot, and accompanied him to York Hospital, where the toes were reattached. Several hours after the fire call, Hale got home, showered to get the smoke off, and headed to Lawrence General.
When he first started fighting fires, Hale had to learn his place the hard way. He'd been on the jobfor two months when there was a cardiac-arrest call. Hale responded as a doctor, jumping in.
"Doc was in the way of the paramedics," says Chief David O'Brien, the only full-timer on the squad. The other 50 men and women are on "call," responding as they can and earning $13.50 an hour — a recent raise from $9. "I had to tell him to let them do their work. I wouldn't barge into his ER shouting orders and I don't expect him to do that at fires."
A chastened Hale agreed, and the two made their peace. "Doc is an excellent firefighter," says O'Brien. "Don't let that mild, boyish look fool you."
In the 11 years he has been a firefighter, Hale has been called out every Thanksgiving and even on Christmas day. Though it took his wife a while to understand how much firefighting meant to him, she is now supportive.
"His focus medically has always been safety and well-being, and fire fighting blends perfectly into that," says Laura Hale, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital.
Still, she worries each time he goes to a fire. "This firefighter who just got injured, that very easily could have been Dan," she says."
Until recently, he served as the longtime chairman of the Kittery Fire Station Association, a nonprofit that supports firefighters. And he's been the race director for the association's annual 5K Run and Walk since he founded the event nine years ago, helping raise thousands of dollars.
"Dan is never happy unless he's busy helping people," his wife says.
But of that day when her newly minted physician husband ducked inside the Kittery fire station, she says: "If I had any idea where this would lead, I would have said, 'No, let's just keep walking and go out to dinner.'"
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.