As COVID-19 has continued to devastate The U.S. and countries around the world, it is more important than ever to find ways to ease the tremendous stress that this global pandemic has surely created. This sentiment goes even further for those right in the thick of things, those deemed “frontline workers.” Two such workers, Jeremy Feinberg and J.P. Rosentreter, both firefighters and paramedics, have turned to the same thing to help them deal with their anxiety inducing professions: music.
Frontline workers are all essential workers, but not all essential workers are considered frontline. Rather, frontline workers are those who work in essential industries, but must physically report to their jobs. So, these are the employees who are putting themselves at the greatest risk healthwise. “We’re dealing with people who are demonstrating signs and symptoms of COVID everyday now,” said Rosentreter, who works as a firefighter/paramedic in the Western suburbs of Chicago. “ So, as we are going into these people’s homes, we’re directly interacting with these people and the hard part for us is the unknown.”
Being a firefighter and a paramedic are simultaneous professions, at least in the case of Feinberg and Rosentreter. So, if they get an ambulance call, they hop in the ambulance to provide emergency medical services and if it’s fire related, it’s into the fire truck they go.
As far as the virus goes, much more emphasis has been placed on protective gear for paramedics. They are required to wear disposable gowns, masks and gloves, otherwise known as PPE or personal protective equipment. However, even in a Covid free world, being a firefighter/paramedic is already incredibly tense. “I deal with a job that can be very stressful,” explained Rosentreter. “You can see some things. Not only you can, you do and will see some things that most people can’t understand.” So, not only are they having to put out fires in neighboring towns, as paramedics, they have to deal with anything from elevator rescues and drug overdoses to handling grizzly car crash injuries or suicides on train tracks.
“We definitely get some not so fun calls,” tells Feinberg, who works for the Tinley Park Fire Department. “A couple weeks ago, we had a fatal motorcycle accident, so, yeah there’s stuff like that” Adding Covid to the mix (and the fact that Rosentreter, in particular, works for the county that has the third largest number of cases in Illinois) it’s understandable that Feinberg and Rosentreter have let music be their emotional support hobby. However, for much of their lives it wasn’t just a hobby.
Feinberg started playing music when he was 16 years old, with the drums being his main instrument, but he also dabbled in guitar and bass. He toured in a number of different indie rock bands in the ‘90’s, even opening up for bands like Fall Out Boy and Rise Against in a band called Feral Anthem. He’s currently in a band called Kowloon Bay. “It’s just something I’ve always loved and always enjoyed doing. It’s something I never ever want to give up,” Feinberg said.
However, Feinberg is content with the decision to stop making music professionally. “It’s nice to have a steady job where I can afford the equipment I want to and be able to still do something that I love.” As far as managing his job and being a musician, Feinberg doesn’t find it too difficult. “Whether it’s playing an instrument or recording something, it’s just something that I do everyday. The only times I won’t do it is if I’m at the firehouse for 24 hours. Anytime that I’m home, it’s one of the things that I definitely do.”
Rosentreter, like Feinberg, started playing guitar and bass at a very young age, playing his first show in 1994 when he was 15 years old. He ended up touring in a number of local punk rock bands in Chicago in the early ‘90’s and is now a member of the band, Throwaway Heroes. “It’s always been more of a hobby,” Rosentreter explained.
“We verged on the point of where it could have become a job, but as much as I love it, the pragmatic side of me kicked in and said, there’s no security here.” Realizing that bands are struggling now, Rosentreter notes how he tries to help out bands he loves during these tough times. “As a frontline worker, I know my job’s not going to disappear. So, I take a chunk of that and give it to various organizations that are saving our stages and various things like that because we need it.”
When it comes to being a firefighter/paramedic and playing music, Rosentreter knows when he plays punk rock that he has to be careful sometimes. “I walk a fine line where I play in a genre of music that tends to be much more liberal,” says Rosentreter. “And I work in a field that tends to be much more conservative. So, I have to always be very careful to keep my art separate from my work.”
However, Rosentreter describes how important it is to have something you’re passionate about in life that helps you decompress, especially when you’re in a line of work such as his. “The people in a field like mine, we’re wired to respond to so many different types of things. But you need that outlet. Everybody needs something. Mine is music. Some people like photography, a lot of guys in my line of work are motorcycle guys. They get on their bike and they go for rides all the time in groups together. Mine is music, it always was.”
This story is a part of the Solving for Chicago collaborative effort by newsrooms to cover the workers deemed “essential” during COVID-19 and how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment.
It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network. The 19 partners span print, digital and broadcasting and include WBEZ, WTTW, the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Defender, La Raza, Shaw Media, Block Club Chicago, Borderless Magazine, the South Side Weekly, Injustice Watch, Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review, Riverside Brookfield Landmark, Windy City Times, the Hyde Park Herald, Inside Publications, Loop North News and Chicago Music Guide.