Joseph Ronan

As a young boy, Joseph Ronan loved to watch the fire trucks drive past his childhood home in West Haven, Connecticut. Years later, Ronan told his parents that he wanted to be a firefighter. They pointed out one significant drawback: Ronan had been deaf since at least three years old, though he was likely born deaf due to genetics.

Although his parents implanted him soon after the diagnosis, Ronan refused to wear the implant. Nevertheless, he was mainstreamed in an oral setting until he transferred to American School for the Deaf in West Hartford at age ten. There, Ronan learned American Sign Language and graduated in 2010 with hopes of becoming a firefighter.

After his parents’ discouraging feedback, Ronan changed his major to political science in hopes of opening up avenues that traditionally barred deaf and hard of hearing persons, such as fire, police, and military occupations. However, Ronan grew dissatisfied with college and decided to try firefighting anyway. With two interpreters, he applied to and was accepted into the Valley Fire Chiefs Regional Fire School.

Though communication was initially rocky, Ronan and his classmates brainstormed various ways of facilitating the process via tactile signals (such as tapping his left calf to tell him to turn left), especially during firefighting scenarios in which everyone’s vision and hearing would be impaired. With their collaboration, Ronan was well on his way to passing the class.

Two weeks before the course finished, the state—despite approving Ronan’s entry into the school with full disclosure of his hearing loss—informed Ronan that he could not be certified as a firefighter because he could not communicate via radio. Even now, Ronan continues to fight their decision. Nevertheless, he still volunteers with a four-man crew at the local West Haven fire station, performing most firefighting duties save for entering a burning building; in fact, on Ronan’s very first fire call, he helped put out a car fire. As of now, he has been volunteering there since December—about eight months.

“Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams,” Ronan says. “I’ve seen some deaf people settle for a different career instead of fighting for their dreams. … I fought for my dream, and it came true.” He concludes, “We can do anything except hear.”