It started like hundreds of calls before it. Arriving on scene, keying up the mic, I spewing forth the normal rhetoric; Engine 81’s at scene, one vehicle moderate damage, 81 will be out with CHP, also we are blocking the onramp to eastbound Interstate 80.
Simple, easy. It was our 20th call of the set, we had been up most of the night and this late morning commute accident was another example of how wonderful the safety standards are for automobiles these days. As my crew did their job perfectly, the way they always do, I smiled.
Little did I know while standing ankle deep in vehicle debris my life was about to change.
My oldest son Cody was home from work, moving around the house doing laundry he looked out the window to see his grandfather moving trash cans towards the road. We live out in the country and my parents live on our property. We share garbage service and it was not uncommon to see my father dragging garbage cans out to the road, grumbling about why they weren’t drug out the night before. It was just his way.
My father has always been ornery, some would say crusty or salty of disposition. He could charm the socks off you when need be, but for the most part it was his way or the highway, no questions asked. He struggled with the move here, not wanting to really leave all he had built over the years in Sonoma, but he also was a realist and with the market at an all-time high, his and my mother’s health on the decline he realized there was no better option.
He spent his days watching TV, talking with the horses, and occasionally going out to see friends. Although that list was in decline as of late, his friends over the last couple years seemed to be dropping like flies. This of course worried him as it should, it is the mortality within us all that creeps around as we get older. He loved his grandchildren, he loved giving them a “hard time” and especially loved that Cody and Jake would give it back! My dad did the very best he could with what was left of his aging body and that left him more times than not, sitting wondering what could have been.
It also left him grumbling when the trash cans weren’t pulled out the night before.
Cody walked back into the kitchen and while getting a cup of coffee noticed grandpa’s car was still in the driveway. Thinking 30 minutes after the last time he saw him was odd he stepped onto the back porch to see his grandfather’s lifeless body on the ground in front of a garbage can.
He ran outside
My crew has just finished closing the ambulance doors, I was watching their backs with my eye on traffic when I heard the tones through my radio. Waiting for the dispatch we began moving pieces of broken car towards the side of the road. The dispatcher began by announcing a medical aid to which I knew would be routed to our engine company that was available. As we continued moving debris the location or address of the newly dispatched call for service hit me like a ton of bricks.
I knew that address! It couldn’t be, I mean I heard it, but it just couldn’t be! Frozen in my tracks, the numbers resonated as my heart beat doubled.
It was my address…
The dispatcher announced the address along with a reported 80 year old male down in the driveway, unknown if breathing.
My heart sunk further, because I knew.
My engineer was listening and he hadn’t quite put it together, but the look on his face suggested that he knew it sounded familiar. When he made eye contact with me as I screamed over the freeway roar; it was my place! It all came together. My firefighter, a new probie was confused but hustled to get everything together so we could go.
Climbing into the engine, I took a deep breath, secured the call we were currently on and attached ourselves to the medical aid. Normally since the medical aid was in my engines response area, I would have cancelled the second engine, but I didn’t know where they were, and I desperately wanted someone there fast. Our Battalion Chief attached himself to the call and ordered an engine from our neighboring town which was much closer to my house than we were. In a matter of seconds, my father had my second family coming for him in full force.
I sat quietly in the Captains seat on the way to the call. Trying hard to fight back tears as deep inside I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I also thought about my son, and what he must be thinking right now. I could feel my phone buzzing in my pants. Knowing it had to be my son calling for help, I could do nothing, with turnout gear on there was no way to get to it in the confines of my seat.
Desperately checking the computer for updated notes on his condition, there was no new news. For a minute that gave me hope. Experience has told me that when there are no updates, there is no one panicking on the other end. This usually comes from a calmness of either a very stoic individual or the subject or patient in question is breathing or talking.
We pulled up to my house and that hope went out the window.
My father was there, lying in the driveway with a blanket and a pillow, my son on his knees holding his grandfather while a dear family friend who just happened to pull into our driveway minutes after Cody called 911 was holding his head.
I have seen this image a thousand times, done this particular job to the best of my ability more times than I care to remember, but my dad…
Getting to him first with 5 members of my second family hot on my heels, I stripped his shirt, felt for a pulse while sighting his chest for rise or fall. Asking for a BVM and NPA I was politely shoved out of the way by one of my guys. Rolling around to his side to start compressions, I was politely shoved out of the way again and told to talk with my family. I stood dumbfounded looking at my hands thinking what the hell! This my dad, I am going to help him! Someone asked for oxygen and I grabbed it only to be moved again to the back and gently told to be with my family. What the hell this is my Family! The man lying there is my God Damn Family and I am going too; oh….. I get it.
Looking behind me at my sons pie eyed face and the look of stress upon our friend it hit me that my job was not on the ground thrashing for supplies, working with the best fireman I know to hopefully save my dad’s life. Yes, that was my family on the ground, but that family was in very capable hands and those guys knew through clear eyes where I was supposed to be.
Turning around I hugged my son, told him he did everything right and not to worry. I hugged our friend and said thank you for being there at just the right time. Cody told me he yelled at our little ones to get back in the house when they came outside so he thought they hadn’t seen much. Our friend had her son go inside and play video games with them to keep them occupied.
Once dad was loaded into the ambulance, it dawned on me. My mother! Holy shit, my mom is next door and has no idea what is happening! As I began walking that way I was asked if I wanted to ride with dad to the hospital. Just then my mom pulled up, our friend grabbed her and told me to go and I did. It was a quiet ride to the hospital, I needed to ride in the front as to keep my hands off the operation. I felt bad, as I work alongside these guys every day, but there was no conversation. It was all I could do to keep tears from streaming down my face.
We arrived, we hustled into an ER room and for the next twenty minutes or so everyone worked valiantly hoping for any sign of life. But in the end, we had an unknown downtime, we had no discernable rhythm or any resemblance of electrical activity and with honest to goodness remorse, the doc turned to me and said: we have done all we can Mr. Franceschi, it is time.
I have heard “time of death” called on a person’s life more times than I care to remember. Hearing it called for my father brought a conflict of emotions.
The ER crew was so gracious and kind. They cleaned dad up, dressed him neatly with a white sheet and left him looking as though he was sleeping. The silence inside that room was deafening. My heart was breaking as I thought of all the times we butted heads or argued over little things. I never got to tell him Jacy was being released from the hospital. He loved her so, and had worried non-stop over her in his own silent way. He was never going to see any of his grandchildren get married or watch them progress with their lives. He was also no longer in pain, his body had given out on him years ago and he struggled daily. His pace maker had just been replaced which was something he was proud of because he had outlived the previous one. Our entire lives together was rushing through my brain.
I just stood there, not knowing what to do, staring helplessly at his lifeless body.
Then deep inside, a ten year old boy emerged. This boy, felt lost and alone, like he was in the dark with no way to find some light. This ten year old boy began to cry for his daddy. He just wanted his daddy to find him, take his hand and tell him not to be afraid anymore. To wrap his arms around him, hold him in his massive 300 pound 6 foot frame and tell him, one day you will be a man and you will know just what to do. This ten year old boy just wanted to cry on his dads shoulder.
The ten year old boy from within forced the 49 year old man to lay his hand across his dad’s chest, kiss him on the forehead and tell him he was sorry he wasn’t there faster. He was sorry they hadn’t always seen eye to eye, he was sorry but they did the very best they could to keep him around for just a bit longer. The ten year old boy from within cried, the 49 year old man shed those tears.
We both said goodbye.
I miss you dad.