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Yes, I Have Ghosts in My Head

“Hey you’re a firefighter, what is the worst thing you have ever seen?”

Once again, here I am being interrogated by a group of strangers. Great — I get to explain to another under-educated asshole what a firefighter’s job really entails. He leans over to a few of his friends, “Hey guys, this guy is a fireman.”  With all interests peaked a small group gathers around me.

It always goes like this…one question leads to another, and I end up defending myself, my crew, my department and the career field of all firefighters.

Most days I just laugh it off, shrug my shoulders and try to change the conversation, but today someone else chimes in (speaking of my “life of leisure” as a firefighter).  “He has it made: Xbox all day, sleeping all night, free gym memberships,” and so on and so on.  

Again usually I laugh it off and say, “Yep, that’s it”, but in my head I say, “If you had only experienced one bad call, if you had ever held one lifeless infant in your whole life, you wouldn’t question anything I do.”  

Today they are relentless: “The city buys your food,” one fat slob says, shoving his third piece of cake down his huge gullet.

Another man says, “I think I could do your job.”  I chuckle to myself thinking, bro, you have been unemployed for 3 years. What makes you think that qualifies you to do anything besides dent the couch? But I still say nothing.  

Scanning the crowd for someone to bail me out, a friend of a friend reaches over and punches my shoulder much harder than someone I just met should touch me.  “Come on, tough guy. Look at your big muscles. Don’t be shy.  What is the worst thing you have ever seen?” 

Quietly I say, “Alright, jerk. You want into my nightmares? Fine. Have you ever seen someone die?” I ask the group, “Anyone?” Not one hand. “Have any of you ever had to console a family member because they just lost a child?” Again, not one hand. So I turn to my only friend in this group and ask, “What do you think about when you drive to work?” 

(Continue Reading: Yes, I Have Ghosts in My Head)

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The 9 Guys You’ll Meet on Every Volunteer Fire Department

1) The Proud Legacy Guy

His dad either was on the department or still is. His grandfather was on the department. His great-grandfather was one of the founding members and is pictured on the department billboard helping to build the city’s first station with nothing but his bare hands and determination. And he was drinking beer while he did it. This guy joined the department before he finished high school and was grabbing hydrants before he could walk. You have never seen him not wearing at least one article of clothing that has the department logo on it.

2) The Reluctant Legacy Guy

This guy’s dad, grandfather, etc. were all on the department too. He also joined the department as soon as he was eligible to apply. But he never talks about any of that. He doesn’t talk much in general, but every once in a while, after he’s had a few beers, he’ll wax poetic about some completely unrelated field — maybe art history… maybe anthropological microbiology… so many dreams…

(Continue Reading: The 9 Guys You’ll Meet on Every Volunteer Fire Department)

Open Letter to the Firefighter Who Thinks Drug Addicts Should Die

Sometimes I want to take every firefighter, Paramedic and EMT that I’ve heard say similar things as the latest Facebook meathead did in a recent post, put them in an addict’s body, let them live whatever life they have led and see for themselves what a loser looks like.

Nobody is born an addict.
Nobody wants to be addicted.
Nobody wants to die an addict.
Nobody wants to live as an addict.

Nobody knows that by introducing a substance into their hitherto clean body that they will be the one who can’t get enough.

Yeah, the people we treat with addiction are a challenge. Sure, they lash out, and don’t appreciate a thing we do. But who are we to judge? Who are we to pontificate in a public forum? Who do we think we are?

The only time while on duty any of us should look down on another human being is when we are lifting them up.

(Continue Reading: Open Letter to the Firefighter Who Thinks Drug Addicts Should Die)

The Ugly Truth About Firefighting That The Public Will Never Understand

“We know what we see is real. We know how it feels. We live with the memories, and know that more will come.

We are tuned in to every aspect of the firefighting life. We know when a brother or sister is lost, and we mourn in our own way, no matter how far away the incident was that took them from us. We don’t have to know the name of the deceased, or their story, because we are the people who make the ultimate sacrifice. Inside every one of us lives a small part of the rest, and we feel the loss more profoundly than people could imagine.

The truth is, this is not the easy life that the general public wants to think it is. This is far more than shopping for lunch, parades, Dalmatians, and Fire Prevention Week. This is life, and loss, and tragedy. This is insomnia, and injury, and depression. None of us gets through it unscathed. None of us expect to. Some of us will not get out alive, and we know all too well that the someone could be us.

So we protect the public from whatever misfortune comes their way, and put out their fires, and tend their wounded, and keep them as safe as we can. We pull the dead from the car wrecks, and cover the bodies at fire scenes so the news cameras won’t bring the horror into the nation’s living rooms. We protect our people from more than just the physical; we keep them from knowing the truth.

The truth is ugly, and devastating. People will tell us that they can imagine how horrific it was for us, but they will never, in a million years, really imagine the depth of that horror.

They will never have to deal with the guilt — the constant mental playback, wondering if only I were a little bit faster, a little bit better, a little more poised, a little more heroic. They will never feel the profound sadness that we do as a result of seeing too much. They will never breathe in the smell of death as it lingers on the recently deceased, before the undertaker does his work. They will never wonder how they will even make it home, and get on with things after what they’ve witnessed.

They don’t have to know about any of it. We let them imagine how bad it can be, and allow them the luxury of thinking that they have imagined it right. They don’t have to bear the burden of life at its most raw and powerful. They have the luxury of watching the world go by through their screens — screens that don’t scream, screens that don’t burn, or bleed.

We let them think that life is fair, with an occasional aberration. We allow them the luxury of the illusion of safety and fairness as life barrels along. They do not need to know how often things veer out of control. They don’t have to know what we know. We remember how it felt to be innocent. We know exactly how good it feels to not see the brutal realities that linger just out of sight. We don’t want them to know about any of it.

All we want is to keep the people who depend on us far away from the things we dread…and we want to survive this career with our hope, health, and sanity intact.”