Picture this. You’ve just started working at Station 209 located in Brampton, Ontario, and are still embracing the surprises that come along with your new job as a local firefighter. You’ve experienced a call here and there for the occasional alarm system and protocol for car accidents, but you have yet to see anything major.
That is, until Christmas Eve of 2013.
As the hours rolled on into Paul Dawson’s 24-hour shift at the firehouse that he was still getting accustomed to, the day turned to night and he sat there anxiously awaiting a call that would simply change his life. And as the night went on, that moment would come all too soon.
“Unfortunately, the dryer caught on fire and obviously it was later on at night so everyone was sleeping, but we were lucky enough to get everyone out of the house and put the fire out,” recalled the Knighthawks captain when asked about his most memorable moment when on the job at the firehouse.
It would be a call that forever stuck out in his mind, a huge basement fire leaving a family with nothing but one another come Christmas day. But at the end of it all, everyone got out okay, and the next day Station 209 came together in order to collect gifts for the family to have a chance at celebrating Christmas despite the unfortunate circumstance at hand.
A simple, yet helpful gesture that Dawson expresses is the initial reason why he ever got into firefighting in the first place.
“Most people when they call 911, it’s the worst day of their life regardless of what the situation is. As a firefighter, we’re trying to help bring some relief for them and I think being there and trying to help people is the reason I got into firefighting.”
Fast forward to two days later and Dawson would hop in a car to make his way down from his hometown of Burlington, Ontario to arrive in Rochester, New York to embark on his second season in the Flower City.
On Dec. 28, 2013, the previous Rochester Knighthawks franchise would open its 20th season in what would become a historical run. By season’s end come May of 2014, the former Knighthawks would be named the NLL champions for the third consecutive year and the only team to ever do so in league history still to this day.
Now game-days as a lacrosse player in the National Lacrosse League are a little different than 24-hour shifts while waiting on calls for a chance to save the day at the firehouse. Like most NLL athletes, Dawson always arrives a day early to hit up practice the night before and get a good night’s sleep before getting breakfast with some teammates in the morning. Game-day rituals are full of studying an opponent with video sessions, shootarounds, family lunches with the team and naps to get you powered up for the night ahead.
Since beginning his professional lacrosse career in 2007, Dawson has become one of the most legendary defensemen in the game. Over the last 14 years, the 6-foot-5 Dawson has been a menace to play against and has terrorized the opposing team’s forwards for more than 200 games while racking up 81 points and accumulating 469 penalty minutes.
The veteran goaltender-turned-defenseman has spent time with six different franchises, including the former Knighthawks organization in which he spent a majority of his professional career and won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014.
One day Dawson might be putting out fires and saving lives and the next he could be on his way to Rochester gearing up at The Blue Cross Arena for the new Knighthawks franchise. This on-the-go lifestyle is typical for most NLL athletes, though, having a day job that they take on while playing lacrosse on the side.
And since that first championship season back in the Flower City in 2013, Dawson has begun to take on double duty without ever second guessing his decision of living out both of his childhood dreams.
“I know there’s that cliché of, ‘If you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,’ but I truly am blessed with being a firefighter. It’s almost just like being on a sports team when you get to the firehall, you’re pretty close with crew mates,” said Dawson when asked about having the best of both worlds.
Despite the long nights and 24-hour shifts as a firefighter, Dawson wouldn’t change a thing about being a firefighter, which enables him to better the lives of others. Reverse that and he wouldn’t change a thing about being a professional lacrosse player either.
Support is obviously a huge factor in order to make the dual lifestyle of an NLL player work. With games falling primarily during the weekends over a six-month span, lacrosse players need to have regular occupations that understand the time off that is needed in order to still be able to perform at the best of their abilities when they hit the floor.
Now the year is 2020, and Dawson has been living out his dual lifestyle going on several years with a better understanding of what he needs to do in order to be his best self at both jobs.
On weeks without games, Dawson will pick up extra shifts at the firehouse while doing heavy lifting in order to stay in prime shape for the season. Weeks that consist of games, there’s less intensity and more time off in order for the defenseman to pack up his bags and make his way to Rochester in time to take on the Knighthawks’ next opponent.
What’s most important about Dawson’s dual life now though is the support that he feels from both occupations in order to fulfill both sides of his dreams.
“I truly am blessed to be able to do both and I’m blessed that my firefighting career supports my lacrosse career and that my lacrosse career supports my firefighting career. I really couldn’t ask for more.”