TJ Aagesen

Interview by
Published on
September 23, 2022

In this episode...

Firefighter TJ Aagesen is a seasoned professional in dealing with crises of every sort from his station in Downer’s Grove Illinois just west of Chicago. His resume shows just a few of his capabilities as a Firefighter/Paramedic/Fire Investigator CFI. Everything from accidents to arson investigations has been part of his long days which is why it’s special he gives his commendation to America’s truck drivers in this very special podcast. He retells how vital commercial drivers often become in supporting first responders and makes clear in a Midwest America voice how deeply indebted we all are to those who keep the freight moving and America rolling!

TJ Aagesen

TJ Aagesen is a Firefighter Captain at Elgin, IL


thing just because there's not someone there thanking you when you're unloading your truck don't think that every mom that has to feed her child doesn't appreciate the fact that a truck driver brought that to the store so they could continue on the cycle when it's our lives it's it's just a vital position Welcome to Night for the mile delivered by freightworks one of America's fastest growing podcasts actually produced by truck indicted to tell story compelling driver story I need to do something like industry all here right now slight by the mile delivered by freightworks I'm your host Butch malpe I cannot tell you how happy I am to have from are you an Elgin yeah Elgin Illinois a dear friend he and his wife I first met uh some years ago believe it or not at an Airbnb at their home but out of that sprouted a friendship that's deep and wide and uh and and durable TJ uh augason as I just uh heard it best pronounced a Norwegian name meaning like the son of the plowman but he is a firefighter in Elgin Illinois he has experienced a lot in his life and on the occasion of National Truck Driving appreciation week I thought it'd be great for us to mix things up a little bit and uh and and have TJ on just talking a little bit about the professional interplay between uh you know folks that are First Responders and folks that are first on the road in America's Trucking and Logistics Enterprise so TJ thank you so much for making time today absolutely butcher anytime well and you know what I I have to I have to tell you something uh for the first time I met you you struck me as kind of a gentle giant and your dear wife and and your your puppies and and just everything about your life was so sweet and kind and I'm so grateful that through the years we've been able to stay together and uh and and on this occasion what I really would love for you to do is just start out by talking a little bit how did you get into being a first responder and certainly on the occasion of 9 11 we we've given a lot of attention nationally and we should to those who ran into those buildings and uh you know and and more than that each and every day 24 7 people who put their lives on the line to help others so what was your journey into this field so uh thanks again Butch uh for having me out the uh the journey for me started back in high school um I didn't have a lot of Direction and I was I was kind of on a just a very troubled Direction and path and um my stepmother kind of threw me into the fire service not intending to really make it my career but more to occupy my time while I was sent to uh take your child to work day and both her and my father were nurses and I said I really have no interest in nursing so I don't I don't want to go and do that for a day she said well I'll have you ride with the fire department in Mount Prospect Illinois which is just a suburb of Chicago yeah yeah and I played High School football and team sports most of my life so stepping into the atmosphere of the firehouse just felt like a second home that I was really really familiar with so when I got into focusing on what the job was and I'm like so wait a minute you guys come here every third day you're here all day you get to hang out with each other eat great food and occasionally go save a life yes you have my attention I am a hundred percent on board for this um so this is in that's in 2000 okay so this is in the pre-911 world um you fast forward a year I was studying at the college level while attending High School all my first year classes for the fire science program and my first semester in two months later is 9 11 and if there was ever an event that was going to Galvanize my position on beat wanted to be a part of this great career it's uh it was that event that really drove me to it so what do you remember about that day so on that day I was um actually I've been home from school with meningitis all that week so I thought I was dying to begin with and then my father called and told me that a plane hit the World Trade Center and I remember thinking like a Cessna or like a small personal plane I couldn't fathom why a Jet Plane would have you know a large commercial airliner would have hit you know the Twin Towers so when I turned on the TV I just knowing very rudimentally what I do did at the time about fighting fire I just thought to myself how are they ever going to put that out at that elevation given the resources that they're going to require I just didn't see how it was possible and that was just me you know at 19 years old realizing that that was an unwinnable battle in my opinion at the time I'm like I don't know how you're gonna put that out I mean you're hundreds of floors off the ground and you're you're water resources are incredibly limited and you're trying to put out a liquid fuel fire so right and and of course you had all that fuel that was in there as well and and uh it really shaped the nation I I wrote a an opinion piece for the local paper and talked about the Challenger disaster you know the assassination of for those of us that are old like like I am my dear friend uh the assassination of Martin Luther King or John F Kennedy the Challenger disaster you know what happened with uh Colombia with Rick Husband there the space shuttle and 911 all these things leave indelible marks but what's so interesting to me TJ is that uh you you had something in you that forged a commitment to public service so can you talk a little bit about what's required like of a firefighter I mean uh I know it's different different municipalities across the country but can you talk a little bit and then we're going to talk about truck drivers in a minute can you talk a little bit about how you have to be trained and what kind of stuff you see and what you have to do so the the jobs changed a lot since I've been in it and I've been a fireman since 2004 so um but the the nice part about the changes that have happened are there they're all for the positive and I see a lot of changes that reflects a really good direction that we're going in um the number one thing I would say is we have like a national fiscal standard through uh multiple national International agencies that have been established so there's no longer a lot of the when I was testing there was a lot of everybody had their own physical standards so some departments would be significantly stricter than others and it just seemed like you were constantly doing the same things over and over to impress the same people so they've streamlined a lot of the process now so you take one physical test and then that gives you a certification that you can keep with you for a duration of time um the physical aspects of the job are real I mean the hard part is is you go from zero to 100 miles an hour you know in a blink of an eye so you could be at a dead sleep and then you got to get up and go stretch a hose line throw ladders up to a roof you know get people out of a building like it it's it's intense um and it goes from nothing to everything very very quickly it just in a nanosecond like like in a moment and uh yeah yeah the the benign can become the very exciting in a very very quick period of time yeah it might let it work well and you know what it's it's obviously not not the same thing but I remember my father who was a a pilot in the Air Force used to tell me that any flu commercially for American Airlines you know used to say it's you know hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer Terror and uh I'm not just I'm not saying that that's the case for somebody that's a firefighter but uh now let me let me ask you this uh TJ in in your experience uh through through the years what what are some of the examples of heroic behavior that you've seen uh on on a part of your your colleagues I mean there's so many unlikely Heroes it's not people that get up in the morning and say I'm going to be a hero today but you've been able to see firsthand some of your colleagues and I'm sure you make decisions in a moment that are waiting can you talk about those so I can speak to I don't consider and I would I would be really surprised if any of my colleagues surprise you know said that any of the work that I do when I'm I'm at the station is remotely heroic um you know as far as I'm concerned I'm being paid to do a job just like anybody else right and you know just because my job involves saving lives doesn't mean that I'm a hero today as much as you know I think the job is a lot more than that and it's a huge commitment for education and it's a huge commitment for you know your resources and when you leave the station it's really hard to just flip a switch and turn it off so I would say that the heroic actions I've seen are from my my colleagues and the guys that I work with and and the things that they've done on their days off and I would highlight that one of our guys tried to save a lady from a burning building with absolutely no equipment I mean and like to establish it like asking us to go into a burning building on our day off is the equivalent of asking a carpenter to build you a house without a hammer so I have no I'm good I have nothing and you want me to do everything so um but he did and he really he made the effort and he won an award through our Organization for it and I said you're you know you wanted to diminish it and I said absolutely not I said you know you did that and you didn't have to you could have kept driving you saw the smoke you called it in and you went in and you know tried to make a difference so yeah there's there's aspects like that with my colleagues we've had guys go into the water to get kids out of cars we've I mean I work with some really outstanding individuals so it's hard for me to sit here and tout anyone they're they're all really good guys well and you know what's they're cut out of a cloth it's uh patriotic and and committed and and selfless and you have to be and now listen for people that don't know can you tell them where Elgin I know where Elgin Illinois is can you can you tell people describe it for him yeah we're about 25 miles directly west of Chicago um about 15-20 minutes from O'Hare airport so right right and of course I we talked about this before I went to Wheaton College so it's right there uh right right there on that Westerly uh trajectory now let's let's talk for a minute about just some of your experiences Through The Years with professional drivers you know a life of the mile delivery and by the way I'll make a quick little commercial here a life of the mile delivered by freightworks make sure you subscribe to the YouTube channel engage make comments share it with others that's how we're able to bring on people like TJ uh today um you know so through through the year we know that professional drivers in America keep America rolling and most people don't realize the incredible uh regulation on drivers for example the airline industry and the trucking industry are two of the most regulated Industries around I mean you're told how far you can go when you have to sleep you know your equipment your pre-trips your post trips got the Department of Transportation you got Regional inspections you got all that stuff going on so I'm sure that through the years you've probably had the opportunity to interact with some drivers absolutely but absolutely I've had numerous drivers that we've encountered you know whether they were involved in a minor accident or if they were just stopped to assist with someone who was in a major accident um I've met some great guys that have really you know put a lot of miles behind the wheel and you know if if I see the worst of uh humanity and you know in a given day then I'll tell you drivers long road drivers those guys see the worst of driving in this country on a regular basis so uh yeah they they see a lot of really questionable things I'm sure they do and what's interesting is that uh when you ask them about some of the dilemmas they face and and by the way when I ask the question there are a couple of questions I'll always ask like how did you get in driving you remember the first truck that you had remember the first time you backed up a truck and then I'll ask them where are the worst drivers and TJ I have to tell you they don't necessarily like Chicago area drivers I'm just uh we won't get into that uh but but you know what so what what what's so interesting though is that they'll talk about the fact that so many people don't realize for example on on-ramps that this truck has got 80 000 pounds I mean it it's it's not something that turns on a dime and it may be I wonder a little bit about fire trucks can you talk a little bit about kind of the dimensions of a fire truck and and what it takes to wield one of those because we have people that listen into this podcast that are just into you know into trucks and stuff so wax eloquent about a truck a fire truck so you take something like a ladder truck which is the truck that has the giant you know boom on the top of it and if that truck's carrying water it can probably have anywhere from 300 to probably 700 gallons of water on it plus you have the weight of the actual boom on the top of it which makes it just incredibly cumbersome to drive and to to operate we refer to it as the Seesaw so if you're driving and you hit a bump in just the right sequence on that truck it can send like the center of the truck kind of like jostling like this so you end up with like the front of the cabs bouncing up the rear is going down and you're trying to steer this whole time and um it can be rather nerve-wracking so you just have to kind of let off the gas and let it Just Bounce its way out and figure it out um driving fire apparatus is its own thing it's it's its own regulatory side of the house when it comes to designing manufacturing and building um I've seen a lot of changes in the time I've been in the fire service some of them good some of them I question on a regular basis uh but it's it's an interesting vehicle to drive when we talk about like weight and capacity I'm not ex I can't speak to 100 of the weight but I know it's got to be close to 20 or 30 tons yeah incredible and and where I I just out of curiosity where are they made like where are most of them made you know so there's a lot of different manufacturers um there's a huge one pierce uh fire apparatus is up in Appleton Wisconsin you'll see a lot of their equipment around here E1 is another one they're out of uh Central Florida in Ocala I think um you got Seagrave which is out of New York there's a there's a lot of different companies that make fire apparatus but you know those are the big players this is an aside I'm not sure we've ever talked about this before but back in my Consulting days when I had my company touch Point Solutions in Colorado Springs one of our clients was the Israel firefighters Association and they were raising money for what they called mini Pumpers because when the katusha Rockets would come into different places in Israel you know that were launched by terrorists they didn't need a huge fire truck what they needed was a mini pumper like a like a it was it was like on a you know a truck platform where they could quickly get into places and I think those were retrofitted maybe up in Appleton if I remember correctly so um but you know that beyond what they do the the whole the whole area of firefighting is so interesting you know when we grow grew up as little boys when I did so many years ago because I'm much older than you when when when I grew up every all all the children wanted to be in the Army be a pilot be a fireman or be a policeman what do you find when you uh interact with with young people uh what what are their perceptions about what you do you get like two perceptions really it's like either they're mystified and very excited and intrigued or they're absolutely terrified and a lot of times I drive the kids into the terrified category given that I'm six six and I have a large stature so like instantly kind of fall back on the oh my God this man is huge um but more often you know I can usually break that barrier down pretty quick by getting down to their level and but like the ability to change the the like the face of a child with the Hawking of the horn or turning on the lights of a fire truck is priceless you can't beat that you know and and and really uh and fire trucks are so ubiquitous and when you when when you see them unless you're somebody that's just completely unpatriotic it just feels you know very American it feels very much like uh here are people that are helping us locally and we sure appreciate it you know one of the big issues with uh the whole Trucking industry TJ is is the area of recruiting more and more email drivers and it's less than 10 percent of America's over the road drivers are are women they're tremendous Riders at the risk of it sounding patronizing and gratuitous which it's not they're incredibly good drivers can you talk a little bit about what's happening as best you know in the whole area of uh you know fire departments and women and Recruitment and and the like so departments in general have focused a lot on diversity equity and inclusion over the last few years but I think the big conversation that we've had internally is that you know we can't really make people take the job but we can hope that you know we have a diverse group that's applying because that's the biggest part it's just if you can get them to apply that's the first step and we've noticed that like right now when I got on the fire department it was predominantly white and a hundred percent male and I'm talking about an organization of 68 firemen now I've got I think we just hired our second female and prior to that um I mean we've just we have a very diverse Workforce that's been hired in the last three to five years so it's I look forward to it this is a great opportunity for us when when you look uh when you look at the whole area of uh of transportation both locally and then and then uh across the country when when the Elgin Fire Department gets called like how far out might it be called in other words what are the jurisdictions can you talk about that a little bit Yeah so I live in Elgin and I work for the Downers Grove Fire Department okay and Downers Grove we cover an area roughly 19 to 20 square miles it's not a huge area we're pretty fortunate with the the highway system and the way things are that our average response times between like four and six minutes so we're there pretty much immediately or as close to me as we can like we get there really quickly um but you know that it's that's a luxury that's not everywhere and seeing 20-minute response times when you get into rural parts of the Dakotas and Wyoming it's not uncommon just because they're volunteers that either have to go back and get the trucks and then come to you or you know could be anything so it could be a while before you see how when you're out in certain rural parts of the country is is it axiomatic to say that when you've got situations that are taking place time is a critical variable I mean is it safe to say the quicker you get there the better it's going to be in most cases uh I would say yes I think the other big thing is you look at like access to health care so even if you know we show up with an ambulance and we only have so much what we can do and there's a point that you know if something's really problematic that someone's going to require a surgeon or some kind of trauma surgeon in some kind of medical intervention along those lines and the larger the distance between you and something along those capacities is what really I think is going to Define your outcomes when you look at things like car accidents or something along those lines okay and uh now when it when it comes to I know with with professional drivers professional truck drivers there's a lot of debate about lowering the age for people to be able to do over-the-road driving and a lot of discussion about that currently because there's the perception of a driver shortage and and you know there's a debate about that it may be inefficiencies more than a lack of drivers but when you look at the fire Services nationally is that an area that I know it may depend on the region probably does is that an area where where we need people absolutely so in Elgin where I live I get to sit on the board of fire and police Commissioners so I interview all the candidates that want to be firemen and policemen and and I've been on this board since 2014 and I've just seen the numbers of applicants go down down down and it's nothing against our municipality or anything that they're doing necessarily this is industry-wide so everybody's having the same struggle right now and a lot of it comes back to the pandemic and people looking at you know hiring credentials and requirements and who got them and who didn't and who was able to because of the pandemic so many things are closed down people weren't able to get the necessary credentials to apply so there's a whole Gap that was kind of created that we're kind of seeing now and we're hoping that it goes away but hope really isn't a strategy so that you mean we're trying to come up with alternative Solutions and whether it's lowering the hiring requirements to try to bring more people in and then just understanding that we're going to have that educational Gap we have to fill or it's just continuing to work through this and then just hoping it gets better but you know TJ I I have had tremendous respect for First Responders my entire life but I'm going to share something personally here that relates to you that redoubled every single thing in me that had respect for folks that are in your position and uh you know I've shared uh in in a radio program that I host here locally in Rutherford North Carolina just about some of the dilemmas with the daughter who is the pace for me of America's opiate crisis and you know barely knowing you and I've not really had the chance to say it and I'm going to say it here on this podcast barely knowing you the fact that you made the effort to come to Michigan and be with a dad who was fighting for a daughter who's still fighting for her life it to me it said so much about not just your professionalism but the heart of who you are as a person and I have told my family you know I'm the oldest uh grandson of 44 grandchildren my mom's the oldest of 11 126 great-grandchildren 37 great greats they know your name because I've shared about the day that you came out to meet with us and I just think of First Responders I think of truck drivers that are out there moving like in in three days if if truck drivers decided not to suit up and show up we wouldn't have to anything on the shelves and most people don't realize that do they they don't realize quiet sacrifices I I don't I think you're I think you're being really open and uh optimistic with your three-day assumption I bet it wouldn't last a day I mean if you drive if you announced like a moratorium on trucking I like that like I think people would hit the stores like you've never seen and it'd be just borderline chaos I think that truckers don't get enough credit for keeping this country together throughout the pandemic I really I I mean regardless of what me or the doctors or the nurses did all the supplies that we needed to do our jobs weren't going to be there unless those guys showed up so that's that's absolutely true and on the occasion of national truck driver appreciation week uh assume for a minute that you have the opportunity to speak to the 150 drivers we have here at freightworks uh you know they're they're young and old they're black and white and Asian and from multiple countries and different Persuasions and religiously motivated and not religiously motivated I mean we have a panoply of drivers you know given the opportunity which you're going to have right now what would you say to all these men and women that uh just hit the roads every single day the you know sacrifices of spending away from their family I can relate to and I'm familiar with um but it doesn't go unnoticed and just because there's not someone there thanking you when you're unloading your truck don't think that every mom that has to feed her child doesn't appreciate the fact that a truck driver brought that to the store so they could you know continue on the cycle that is our lives it's it's just a vital position and I think that you know just saying thanks doesn't go far enough with those guys it's uh it's a vital thing that we need as a country and it just to make it a priority is an understatement those guys are are doing it every day so you thank you you know what I appreciate I appreciate the authenticity of that I'm going to tell you this real quickly and then we're going to move towards you know the mark of a I often say this great conversation as they go quickly and we've only got a handful of minutes left here but uh you know here we are at freightworks one Studio it's right around the corner from the driver lounge and TJ it's so funny I had no background in trucking Logistics when I agreed to come on board as the Director of communications Josh farmer who founded the company dear friend and uh what's funny is that I'll go out there and talk to the drivers and because I'll have like a you know a collared shirt on they'll think I know how to get their truck fixed quicker or better or or even that I know what they're talking about when they start talking about their carburetor having an issue or their wheel lug nuts not being on the right way or this side of the other so what I what I love I love to learn and so drivers when you tell them look I don't really don't know anything about this field they're great teachers and so you know as improbable as it may seem to My Philosophy professors and English literature professors and political science professors at Wheaton College I'm actually getting like a graduate degree in trucking and Logistics and I absolutely love it it's the real deal just just like fire departments and police departments and emergency responders are but I don't have to tell you to stay humble I mean you you stay humble and ask the right questions you can learn an awful lot I mean it doesn't take a lot to ask somebody hey what about this and tell it those guys want nothing to do about the talk they're sitting in the truck all day by themselves they they yearn for that that level of Engagement absolutely and and when the mechanics walk in and they come in as a group to take kind of their Coke break when the mechanics walk in and sit down I know I'm about to learn things I didn't learn in all of the schooling that I ever went to all right well it's it's the time to the pro I just love talking to you and you you know that already and I'm looking forward to us being together with your your your uh dear wife and uh she she works for uh beating America yeah she's working at feeding America in Chicago today yeah and uh just brilliant and the two of you as a couple are just so magnanimous and and encouraging now this is the time in the program where uh we're gonna have to get your address in a minute here but it's going to feel a little bit like QVC because I'm going to tell you uh I'm gonna give you some options uh as a gift for being on the podcast today so our first possibility here is the freightworks one cap you know it's got the freightworks One logo there the second is this cap it's the light by the mile it's got a leather patch on it's got the uh you know American uh flag kind of look there this would have really well with the Mid-America truck show I I if people told me in college that one day I would go to the Mid-America truck show a million square feet of trucks and people and Logistics and all of that they would say that's never going to happen with Butch Walton but but it did and hey it's going to be winter soon so we've got this uh winter cap here it's got the leather life of the mile patch and so I think all of these would fit even at six six so you tell us which one you want us to send you winter is coming and I don't have a winter hat so that will definitely be the winner great all right well we're going to send that to you William's going to make sure he's got your address I've got it but he'll confirm it with you and we'll send that along uh folks this is life by the mile delivered by freightworks you know we try to bring you a salad bar of different uh conversations and today we've had uh TJ augason uh from Elgin Illinois he is a professional firefighter he's given us some insights on that world but also you know his perspectives on the incredible role that professional truck drivers play in America we want you to subscribe to the YouTube channel we want you to engage share like uh you know help us build the audience we believe we're one of the faster growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company and it's because of your encouragement and your help that we're able to do that it's National truck driver appreciation week and TJ you've been at an effective Oracle helping us better understand the EMT world the fire department world and more than that the the heart of a man that I call a dear friend thanks Butch it's been great to have you on today thanks so much absolutely thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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