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Wayne Cummins: “Surviving the pandemic and working on the frontlines definitely made me grow a lot as a person and as a firefighter.”

Wayne Cummins is standing and holding his hands in front of him on a sunny day. He is wearing a ballcap with a blue shirt that has the Columbia fire department logo. He has a strap across his body with the letters “CFD” and a radio attached to it.
Becca Newton

Wayne Cummins spoke with the Missouri on Mic team at the CoMo 200 celebration on the 4th of July.

He’s a Columbia firefighter and spoke about what it was like growing up in Missouri and how the pandemic has affected him as a first responder.

Missouri on Mic is an oral history and journalism project documenting stories from around the state in its 200th year.

Wayne Cummins: Growing up for the majority of my life in Missouri, the first thing that comes to mind to me is community. I grew up in the rural small-town areas.

And even living near Columbia and working in Columbia, I've been around different states before, and I can honestly say that everyone's very community-minded everywhere I've ever been and kind of neighbor helping neighbors type of mentality, and I'd have to say that's probably what I think of first when I think of Missouri.

For me – where I grew up – Columbia was considered a big town. So, people around here might not think that it is a big town, but where I grew up – Colombia is big. So that may be a misconception when it comes to people up around where I grew up to what it is really here.

And at the end of the day, Columbia is a good-sized town, but it's not huge, you know what I mean?

You had to go there to get what you wanted done and shopping and anything fun, so that's the way it was for us. We went to Kirksville – [that] was our bigger town in the area that I grew up. Columbia was like the big mall trip for me when I was a kid.

So, I think if Missouri takes an interest and gets better in education, transportation, and stays on top of the agricultural game – which it is, I think – if they continue to do that, I think nothing but good can come.

"We had to work extra hard and be vigilant not to get exposed ourselves and still be able to help people when they called."
Wayne Cummins

I'm a little biased because I'm a first responder, but if they take care of their first responders and know who's on the frontlines when things get bad, then if we do all those things right, then I think as a whole this the state will grow and do good things.

In my line of work, in emergency services, we were at the forefront of all of the COVID pandemic.

So, whenever the COVID was at its worst, we were the ones getting the call to go take care and help people. We are the first responders. We run the EMS calls through Columbia Fire Department.

So, as far as that goes, we were very busy at work – we had to change how we operated to protect ourselves, which you know, put a lot more precautions into our operations, our daily operations.

We had to work extra hard and be vigilant not to get exposed ourselves and still be able to help people when they called.

So, as far as it goes, for me, I was most affected at work, because we were just around it every day, and we were going and helping every 911 caller that called with the issue. – no matter what it was. We were there.

And we successfully came through the worst of it, and, as a department, we grew a lot, and as a person, I grew a lot – because you just learn to deal with a lot of different things and a lot of change quickly.

So, I would say how it affected my life the most was surviving the pandemic and working on the frontlines like that definitely made me grow a lot as a person and as a firefighter and first responder in this community.

My hope is that as a state we can all continue to work together, be kind to each other, grow and prosper and see what the future takes us.

Lauren Hines is a reporter and producer at KBIA.
Becca Newton is a student reporter and producer at KBIA. They will graduate from the University of Missouri in spring 2022 with a degree in Multimedia Convergence Journalism and minors in Peace Studies and History.