Keith Mortman, M.D.
Meet Keith Mortman, M.D., a CJPVFD firefighter and thoracic surgeon. Here, he is interviewed by CJPVFD administrative member, Dave Sidhu.
DS: What led you to volunteer with the Department?
KM: I have always wanted to be a volunteer fireman--long before wanting to be a physician, but maybe not before wanting to be a professional baseball player. I grew up in suburban NJ where my father was a volunteer fireman. I spent most of my formative years hanging out in the firehouse--sometimes when my father wasn't even there. I knew the code to the door, so sometimes I would just ride my bicycle there and bring a friend. Although I've had the desire to be a volunteer fireman for several years (ok, decades), sometimes life gets in the way--family, career, moving across the country and back again, etc. One year ago (pre-pandemic) I was starting a photography project. My desire was to create a book depicting the volunteer fire companies of the U.S. I was introduced to Chief Piccardi by a friend and came to Station 10 one day to take pictures. I spent time speaking with a few members who mentioned that the department was always looking for volunteers. I thought about it quite a bit when I got home and decided that if not now, then when?
What have you found to be the most rewarding or fulfilling aspects of Department service?
Although I have only been with Cabin John for less than a year, I admire the service that it provides to the community where I live and grateful for the camaraderie amongst the members. CJPVFD allows me to give back to my community in a way that is different from my day job.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of Department service?
Without hesitation, the most challenging aspect of joining CJPVFD has been making it through the Fire 1 class. Many people have observed firefighters in action and wondered about doing it themselves. "How hard could it be?" they ask. I must admit I was one of those people too. It was not until my Fire 1 class that I realized how arduous the training is. Like other professions, it is the repetitive training that ultimately makes the task look easy--whether it's throwing ladders and dragging a line to the front door of a house fire or responding to a multi-car collision on the inner loop. I am grateful for the training that MCFRS provides.
Where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you were young?
As noted above, I grew up in central NJ where I was the second of three sons born to working class parents. My first love was baseball, but the gods did not bless me with great bat speed and my offense was lacking. The call from the NY Mets never came. In high school I enjoyed the sciences and began to volunteer at my local community hospital. For me, volunteerism continued when I went to college (Washington University in St. Louis) and I had the opportunity to work in the University Hospital E.R and then the O.R. I received a scholarship to attend medical school at UMDNJ-Rutgers. After that, my general surgery residency brought me to the Washington Hospital Center. I completed a cardiothoracic surgery residency at Montefiore Medical Center in NY and a minimally invasive thoracic surgery fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. After a 10-year hiatus, I returned to D.C. in 2009. I have been an Associate Professor of Surgery and served as the Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at The George Washington University Hospital for the past 7 years.
Do you find your service to be helpful or useful in your profession?
Because of my day job and the care that I provide to patients with thoracic surgical disorders (as well as the time spent in a firehouse as a kid), I actually joined CJPVFD for the fire suppression aspect. But whether one is an EMT provider, a firefighter, or a physician, the common thread is helping people when they are encountering the worst moments of their lives. It is about establishing trust in the time it takes to introduce yourself. So as I move forward with CJPVFD, I can see it helping me take of care of patients at GW and vice versa.
What message do you have for anyone thinking about volunteering with CJPVFD? Would you recommend volunteering?
For anyone seriously considering volunteering at CJPVFD, I would suggest coming by the station and spending an hour or two speaking with some of the members. You will see that the members vary in age, sex, race, ethnicity, profession, background, etc. You will see that the members are your neighbors and just like you. We work together for a common mission.
What hobbies do you have outside of work and volunteering?
Outside of work and volunteering, I am an avid photographer and won my first award (for long exposure and night photography) this past summer. Additionally, I enjoy exercise, hiking and traveling.