In the line of duty...
For sixteen years, I have had the distinct privilege of holding the title of Paramedic. I say that with great pride. It is not a job, it is who I am. Even though my body is not well right now, in my heart and mind I am always a Paramedic. I keep up my education and training, stay in contact with my firefighter/EMS colleagues and I hope to return to the profession when I am physically able. I refuse to let this disease take that away from me.
I spent six years working on the volunteer fire department and those were some of the best years of my life. The picture above is my brother, nephew and their dog at one of our July 4th celebrations. It was a great community and I miss that rescue very much. I have since moved to a different state and become too sick to work but I hope to get back to EMS some day.
The reason that I bring this up in today’s post is that the fire service lost 19 “hotshot” firefighters yesterday in an Arizona wildfire. News like this is very upsetting to any firefighter or EMS worker no matter where we are in the country. We take it to heart because we see ourselves as a family. Everyone has seen on television the outpouring of support whenever there is a firefighter’s funeral. Thousands of firefighters travel to the funeral services from all over the country, all in uniform, to stand at attention in a show of respect for the brother lost in the line of duty. Ladder trucks are raised with a large flag hung between them and the procession travels beneath it. Bagpipes will sound and buglers will play. It’s just the way it is done.
We take this very seriously. The fire service is steeped in history and tradition. It is a brotherhood. And I love it. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sure, it was tough as a female to break into this field sixteen years ago. I was actually one of the first women to work in a fire house on a 24 hour shift and they had to convert one of the bathrooms to make it a “women’s” bathroom. They didn’t even have a separate shower room so a firefighter would stand outside the door when it was my turn to shower so no one would walk in while I was in there. It took the guys a little while to get used to sleeping in a bunk room with a woman present but once they realized that I had a thick skin, everything worked out just fine.
I had to learn to roll with the punches, be one of the guys, take a lot of ribbing, cook with them, constantly prove my worth, and draw the line when I thought that things were unacceptable. In time, I gained a respect from my peers and became an essential part of the Fire/EMS family. I have never felt so appreciated, loved and supported in any other profession in my life. This is why when a firefighter or EMT/Paramedic dies in the line of duty, no matter where it is in the world, we all feel the pain deep in our hearts. It is because we have ALL gone through the same type of “initiation” into the service. We have all worked to earn that title.
We are also bound together by our desire to help others regardless of self. In all honesty, we do not think about the danger of the situations that we enter. We believe in our training. It is pretty apparent during school who will make it in this business and who will not. After I became a Paramedic, I also became an EMS educator. I taught courses in CPR, ACLS, BTLS and I also taught people to become EMTs and Paramedics. We spend so many hours learning the skills to save people’s lives that when the danger is happening all around us we don’t really notice it. We are focused on the task at hand and we are using our skills to manage that situation. It is only when things out of our control overrun us that we end up losing our lives or losing our patient’s lives. I know in my heart that those firefighters who died did everything in their power to save themselves and it was likely an unforeseen circumstance that took them from us.
Doing what we love IS a dangerous profession and we know that. We also know how much our families worry when we are out there. It is not easy loving someone who has the passion for these professions but they know that we wouldn’t be who we are without those jobs in our lives. We don’t do them for the adrenaline. Lord knows the majority of my ambulance calls were for medical calls that were not very dramatic at all. We do these jobs because we have to help. We don’t know any other way to live.
My heart hurts today for the families of those 19 fallen firefighters in Arizona. I know that they were doing what they loved but I hope that they were not afraid in their final moments. I am sure that they knew the fire was surrounding them as they called in their location on the radio and pulled out their safety wraps.
They probably patted their buddies on the backs, quickly covered themselves with their heat shields and started praying that an air drop was about to hit them with foam at any minute. I only hope that the smoke got to them and put them to sleep before the fire could burn them. I hope they had kissed their families goodbye and held their children close before they left for the fire line that day.
I hope that the Chief on the other end of the radio can have the strength to lead the rest of his troops through what needs to be done to contain this fire in the days ahead while they struggle with their grief. I hope that the fire family will wrap the mourning families in their warm embrace while they try to cope with their loss. I hope that people can just be kind for a little while and not ask all the political “why” questions that human nature seems to bring up, which invariably become so hurtful at a time like this. But most of all, I hope that Mother Nature sees fit to have it rain like crazy in Arizona right now with absolutely no lightning strikes at all. It won’t even come close to how many tears will be shed in the coming days, I can assure you.