Today, if you will indulge me; I feel as though I need to take a little break from writing about the trials and tribulations that befall a family of six living on a farm.
There have been no postings from me for a few days now because; well to be honest I have been in a bit of a funk. Then last night it hit me, after a long conversation with a dear friend, my brain flooded into neural overload and like riding a DeLorean back through time, images once again began to appear. I don’t like it when they arrive as they do so without cause or care, but it was at that moment I realized it was time to write about them.
These images are like none anyone would ever want to see. They haunt me from time to time and ruin just about every moment of my life in some strange way or another. They come and go as they choose, sometimes in the middle of the day, other times late at night. When I am asleep they wreak havoc upon my subconscious awakening me to sweat, cold and fear. Some nights they are so real I have to walk our house, stepping into every room while telling myself; “it is just a dream.” There are other times when nighttime dreams become so bizarre it seems they should be uses as the basis for writing a novel. As though notes should be created, characters molded and then reap the rewards of a story well crafted. But even as bizarre as they can become I am still able to recognize the truth within their core.
As many of you who follow my blog know I am a firefighter. As a firefighter there are certain things we just don’t talk about amongst ourselves or our family. Or when we do we try our best to find the humor in a sad or sick situation. Laughter has always been the best medicine and if we can find just one thing humorous about any incident we then take a moment to laugh at ourselves eventually feeling better about the outcome. We (firefighters) also refuse to discuss these “things” outside of our close-knit circles. Leaving the general public in the blind, it is done out of fear for the reaction it may evoke. But truth be told we are our own worst enemies, therefore I am about to break that rule and hopefully you will understand why in the end.
Death, dismemberment, murder, burned and injured people, the stupidity of human nature, sickness, physical abuse (spousal, child, partner etc), drug dependency, alcoholism, and the myriad of sick and twisted things human beings can do to each other and themselves. Not just once in a while, not just what is perceived as truth in the news, but on a daily basis.
We see it all, and no matter how much we try, what we see never goes away and there is nothing anyone can do about that. Oh sure we have Critical Stress Debriefings (CSD) to help us deal with our emotions. Everyone sits through them and nods their heads like sheep (me included), each one stating we are “OK”. We have councilors at our disposal, both through our agencies and as part of our health care package, and they do a fine job of once again helping you to understand the basis for your concern, the pattern behind your thoughts and a mental picture of how to evaluate then project the positive image you desire hoping to remedy a current mental hindrance. But the fact still remains the same. These “things” we see never go away, burned in our skulls for eternity.
When starting in the fire service 18 years ago us probationary firefighters lined up for a presentation from our Chief. He proceeded to tell us there were incidents we would never forget and mental pictures that would stay with us for life. Our job was not for the weak of heart and over the length of our careers would weigh on us heavily. As young cocky cadets we laughed that nervous laugh that so many young people do when puffing out their chests to show manly superiority. Then afterwards we all joked around with comments like; “that will never happen to me” and “what kind of wuss would ever be sickened by blood and guts”. Then off we went into our careers to face the unknown secretly praying we WOULD see it all! Just to prove him wrong.
And over the years I have seen plenty and it hasn’t been pretty.
Now I am not complaining by any means! I LOVE my job! It really does define who I am as a person. This career has become everything I ever dreamed it would be and there a thousands of people we have helped during the very worst day of their lives. But over the last couple of years with all the budget constraints, people losing their jobs, and money becoming tight, we (firefighters) have consistently come under attack from the general public, politicians and just about anyone who has an axe to grind. I don’t mind, what I have done, what my fellow brothers and sisters have done over the years far outweighs any mealy mouthing some politician can do. But when its the public, the very people we care about, or when its people you actually know who live within your response area and have protected for many years with pride. Well I don’t care who you are it just hurts.
So let me move forward by saying, this job has never, ever been about money, (although I found it interesting today that a sheet rockers income per hour is double mine)it has never been about the reported “days off” even though we work almost double the reported “easy 10 day schedule” we supposedly keep. This job has never been about the retirement. Although, never will I cower and lower my head as so many do when the topic of our supposed “Golden ticket” retirement comes up. Like we as firefighters should be ashamed of the retirement system we fought so hard for and “hold onto your hats people”; paid for out of our own pockets! Not 100% funded by the people’s money as continually reported by those willing to throw our futures away! Yes we can retire at 50! So what! Statistics show time and again the majority of us will be dead from carcinogenic cancers, blood borne pathogens, and heart attacks within 10 years of retirement! And the majority of us won’t get the luxury of retiring at 50 anyways! It’s just an option there for the lucky few who have 30 years in by 50! The vast majority of us will work until we are 60-65!
But even after all that, even after we have been bashed for being recliner sitting, engine polishing, self-proclaimed heroes who live off the tax payers dime! I wonder if any of them understand the little mental gift we have all been given from minutes, hours, days and years of seeing the things we see? Is there a dollar amount for that? Is there? Then I wonder while their mouths are engaged and their self-absorbed brains are frozen could they do it? I don’t mean the job, but live through the after effects? Could you? Can you? Seriously, I am not trying to be malicious or indignant or even belittling, but could you?
Can you stand in your driveway watching your son drive away knowing the number one cause of teen deaths their first year behind the wheel is vehicle accidents? Then have your mind flooded with horrible images from every accident involving teenagers you have responded to over the last 18 years resulting in death, dismemberment and sorrow, transposing your sons face upon those that perished and their ghastly outcome! Can you sleep when he isn’t home yet? Will you stay calm when you can’t get a hold of him on his cell phone, while more images pound at your brain? Could you?
Can you board a plane without starting to sweat and sit quietly during engine throttle up without a care in the world while secretly you are observing every exit, profiling people’s personalities so you will know if this plane goes down who you will have to be very direct too while helping get survivors off the plane. Or are you able to make the flight without multiple panic attacks about it plummeting into the ground killing all aboard. Can you sit there and not picture a fire churning its way down the center aisle, burning people while you stay low, trying to figure out how to help? Can you?
Can you hold an infant enjoying its very innocence without wondering when it will die? Seeing in its eyes the very infant you tried to save gasp its last breath of air, taking it off its dead mothers chest. Holding it, trying not to cry because you know the end is near for this precious being. Handing the infant off to a transporting agency after doing all you can then shrugging off a feeling of helplessness and proceeding to the next victim during triage and perform your job flawlessly? Could you, would you?
Can you crawl through blazing hot temperatures in 50 pounds of gear without being able to see your hand in front of your face? Feeling your way through a burning home, counting your time inside, monitoring how far you have gone, trusting your training and your partners skills. Hopefully finding the seat of the fire rapidly, stopping the beast from growing. You sweat, curse and pray, sometimes it’s so hot it drives you to the floor, on your belly, but you are close so you press on. Then when it’s over you sit looking at the degraded building and its cheaply made materials that fail in half the time from a mere 20 years ago and picture the roof collapsing on you and your crew. The Chief coming to your house, sitting your wife down and patting her hand while she cries because you are gone. Your children are fatherless, your wife is a widow and you are no more. Can you think about that? Can you?
Can you watch your family time and again go on trips without you because you don’t work an 8-5, Mon-Fri schedule? As they turn out the driveway you are reminding them to please call if there is any trouble, to call when they arrive, to call whenever they go somewhere, anywhere. Why? It’s not because you don’t trust them it’s because where ever they go you need to know if trouble lurks around the corner. You hate feeling this way but you do! Whether hiking, bike rides horse back or even plays dates in the park. The moment they are gone, can you let them go without seeing disaster strike at every turn? Can you?
Can you ever go to a barbecue and not smell burned flesh? Can you?
Can you perform CPR in front of an entire family sometimes successfully, sometimes to no avail and not feel moved by the crying, children sobbing, wives praying, husbands asking why, while holding the newest member of the family? Can you sit with a husband who just lost his wife of 45 years and hold his hand? Tell him you are so sorry while only having an inkling of the pain he is about to go through all while knowing it wont be too much longer now until you respond to him passing away as well? Can you hold a daughter whose mother just died in front of her from a diabetic reaction. Can you do that until the father gets home then go through it all over again? Can you turn and tell a family grandpa has gone and how sorry you are but there was nothing you could do to save him? Can you?
Can you give medical treatment to an abuser without prejudice? Could you?
Can you look a little girl, dying of cancer in the eyes time and again telling her it’s going to be ok? She knows you are lying, you know you are lying, but strangely it makes you both feel a little better. Then watch over time as she fades away, eventually succumbing to her disease and feel some remorse, somehow attached or remotely responsible? Can you do it?
Can you pull up to a random medical aid just in time to watch a man pull a hand gun out and shoot himself in the head? Then rush to his side without worrying if he is still alive and may shoot you! Then calmly do your best and try to save his life?
Can you bury a friend and honestly say he is in a better place when all your training couldn’t save his life and you know the suffering he went through before perishing?
Can you drive down the freeway without wondering what car is going to crash, what bridge is going to collapse, what semi truck is going to jackknife. Whose car is going to survive the crash, how many people are going to die? Where are you going to swerve to avoid the problem? Do you do this?
Can you lay your head down at night and not fear the sleep that comes?
Our job is one we love; we do it because believe in the power of helping those who cannot help themselves! We are a myriad of Type A personalities, we are born to be helpers, genetically it is who we are. Yes we knew what we were getting into. But what we didn’t know or possibly could have fathomed was the lifelong effects it would have on us, our marriages, our children and our ability to look at the world through innocent eyes. Something every one of you possess whether you realize it or not. Something (my innocence) I would give anything to have back. But in the long run I can’t have it back! I gave it away when I took my oath and there is no getting it back.
The other night I received an honorary coin during our annual awards night dinner for saving a life. I have been a part of a crew who has saved a life (on record) every year since 2007. Does that one coin make up for the countless others lost? Are we supposed to live by the mantra “people die every day what are you going to do”? I just don’t know anymore.
People tout us as heroes. We aren’t, we are like any other trained profession looking to use the skills we have acquired. Everyone needs a hero and I am ok with the title if it eases someones mind, but when I think of true heroes I think of our military! Men and women who wake up everyday, put on their boots and stand up for our country at all costs. Some people bag on our job, put us down, disrespecting our failures and our accomplishments. Yes everyone does have the right to their opinion it is a cornerstone to our countries foundation. But before they run their mouths giving a public perception that is both false and unjust, I wish once they could see life through my eyes or the eyes of the millions of brothers and sisters walking this earth everyday feeling the very same way I do, carrying the same burden, shouldering the same load and doing it with a smile on their faces.
Could they carry this burden? Even for a little while would be nice. Can you? Could you? Would you?
Thanks everyone for letting me vent. I am no greater than the person beside me, God created me that way for a reason. Maybe someday I will be by your side as well, giving you comfort and helping you in a time of need.
To those who walked this path before me I have and always will be in awe of the leather boots I fill…
“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling. Our proudest moment is to save lives. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even of supreme sacrifice.”
Chief Edward F Croker FDNY (1899-1911)
FTM*PTB* EGH* RFB