The Ramblings of a Quixotic Dad, Firefighter, EMT, and God-knows-what-else…

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Detur aliquando otium quesque fessis

Kindofafireguy will be returning shortly, even though kindofafireguy is more of kindofanEMSguy. More to follow.

“Agere sequitur credere.”

Literally, “action follows belief.”

In just under 4 days, I will no longer be “kindofafireguy.” At least, not professionally.

At the moment, I don’t know what I’ll be. I have some offers in the same general field, and I’ll land on my feet. Honestly, being a firefighter will always be a part of me, no matter what career path I now follow. I intend to remain in public safety, so maybe I’ll be “kindofapublicsafetyguy.” Who knows.

My wife and I have decided to uproot ourselves from our lives here in the windswept West of Texas, and return to the lands of our youth. It is a bittersweet parting. In some ways, it will be a homecoming for the both of us, as we move closer to a place we grew up in, and a place that truly was always a part of us.

Throughout these last few years, I have spent hours upon hours trying to explain to people the differences between where I lived and where I was from. Growing up in the deep south of Louisiana, things were done a bit differently than in Texas. The advent of “Swamp People” didn’t exactly help (when I was a rookie firefighter, there was many a time I was called into the day room to “translate” the deep Cajun accents for the rest of the crew). While many of them were always tempted to make fun of the way we talk, act, and are, I was always reminded of the song “A Southern Thing” by Louisiana band Better Than Ezra. The chorus has a line that states “Don’t mock what you don’t understand / It’s a southern thing.”

It’s true. It’s a southern thing. I would jokingly tell everyone at work that as far as I concerned, they were all Yankees and might as well have been from the Northeast.

In some ways, though, it was somewhat true. My wife and I would often talk about life back “home.” The people were different. The food was different. The culture was unique. My wife became interested in genealogy a while back, and the more she researched, the more we came to understand that Cajuns are all, basically, one giant extended family. From a small exiled band came a culture and group that occupy almost an entire portion of a state.

And in a way, I’m excited to get back to that, back to “me and my honey rockin’ back and forth / light it up again with my kin and friends.”

But in a way, this was our home, too. My wife moved here over 5 years ago, and I followed behind her shortly after. This is where we first lived together. It’s where we built a life with our kids. And that is something that is hard to give up.

“Action follows belief.”

My wife and I believe that we are doing the right thing. We believe that it will be better for our kids, better for our family, better for us, to return. To be closer to the rest of our family. To get a fresh start. And so we have taken action.

“Audentes fortuna iuvat.”

Fortune favors the bold, and bold we shall be.

The Sounds of Silence

Man, it’s been a long time since I got on here and posted.

I could give you a list of excuses, but ultimately it boils down to me just not taking the time to sit here and write something. You would think that there should always be something to write about. Honestly, I always think there’s something going on that I need to get out.

But it rarely does.

We first responders have a tendency to repress our most basic instincts and emotional responses. Is it because we think we need to be strong at all times? Is it that we just do such a great job of compartmentalizing everything until it explodes and we’re left standing there, shattered reality around us?

This omerta, this code of silence, it follows us everywhere. There are things I see and do at work that I need to get out, need to tell someone.

But who to tell? My wife? My kids? I’m reminded far too often that my gory tales are far too much for respectable dinner conversation.

Instead of turning here, though, I sit, and I wonder about all those things I should have said, but didn’t.

And it’s a silence that is deafening.

A Note on the Fire-based EMS Debate

I am, first and foremost, a firefighter. That is the career I have chosen.

But I am also an EMT with advanced training, working on finishing my EMT-Paramedic.

My department required me to have a Basic certification to be eligible for hire. But that is all.

No one forced me to advance my medical certifications. I have done that of my own accord and mostly at my own expense.

That being said, I could care less whether fire runs EMS or EMS is a third agency. That’s above my paygrade and beyond my scope. The people I work with in EMS are fine, dedicated people. I am proud to work alongside them, regardless of whose name is painted on the outside of the ambulance.

But what irritates me is when people say that Fire-EMS is just the Fire Department trying to justify their existence by trying to do someone else’s job.

That’s like saying that the 343 firefighters who sacrificed everything on 9-11 were only justified because FDNY also runs medicals.

I know it’s more complicated than that (I think FDNY took over EMS in 2005, but that’s not the point), but yet it is also that simple.

“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”

Kurt Vonnegut was a firefighter. He is also a fire survivor rescued by firemen. At a tribute for our fallen brothers and sisters, he recited the names of all of the firefighters who were killed from the station he was saved by.

Firefighters are not heroes by default, and fire calls are down. I will give you that.

But go home. Look around. Look at the things and the people you love.

Now imagine that all burning to the ground.

I have worked in a burn center. I have seen what flame can do and I have felt its heat kiss my flesh.

George Orwell is attributed (perhaps incorrectly) with saying “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Maybe we can sleep peacefully because someone stands ready to rush into harms way, regardless of their career (Fire, EMS, law enforcement, military, etc) and who needs their help.

They hear the call, and they answer.

That, to me, is justification.

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

When she put the poster in her office (which had, until the day before, been a small closet), I couldn’t help but stare. For National Poetry Month in 2009, the American Academy of Poets put out a beautiful image of these two lines written into the condensation of a piece of glass.

“Do I dare /Disturb the universe?”

T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a complicated poem, one whose analysis is way beyond my scope. But I love it.

“Do I dare /Disturb the universe?”

I love that thought. It haunts me.

Mainly, it’s because I find myself asking myself that question all the time. Oftentimes, first responders (regardless of what field – EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, etc) find themselves in futile situations. Anyone who has ever worked a cardiac arrest at a nursing home will understand what I mean.

“Do I dare /Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

If only it were that simple. But still, I wonder.

Do I dare?

Do you?

Writing for the Dead

It was a saying he seemed to like, though he couldn’t resist modifying it.

“Write.” – “For whom?” – “Write for the dead, for those in the past whom you love.” – “Will they read me?” – “Yes, for they come back as posterity.”

I’m not a Kirkegaard expert, so there won’t be any brilliant literary analysis or some  moment of existential clarity. If you want that, you’d have to talk my wife, Dr. KindofAFireWife. She’s the English expert. I just love the quote.

It makes me think of Bringing Out the Dead  by Joe Connelly. In his book (and in the film adaptation), a burned out paramedic in New York reflects on his role as a provider. He has stopped seeing himself as anything beyond an intruder on the end of the people he is sent to help. Indeed, as he performs CPR on an elderly man surrounded by his family, the medic decides that his purpose is now solely to bear witness to the lives of those he responds to.

It’s a great book that shows the dark side of EMS through powerful satire. And let’s be honest: there is a dark side to this job. There has to be. We witness terrible things in dark places. We often share in the worst moments of the lives of those we help. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying.

Maybe that’s the real reason I’m typing this. Maybe I want someone to know I was here. Maybe I want to let out the darkness so that it doesn’t follow me wherever I go. Maybe this is my 911 call.

Maybe I just want someone to bear witness to me.

Kirkegaard wasn’t satisfied with the saying the way it was.

“Write.” – “For whom?” – “Write for the dead, for those in the past whom you love.” – “Will they read me?” – “No!”

That’s a bit more damning.

Hell, maybe I’m a little damned, too.

Verisimilitude of Gratitude

His hat said “Vietnam Veteran,” and it was covered in service pins. He walked up to the four of us standing in the checkout line, where we were waiting to buy the next day’s lunch for the station.

“Thank you guys for your service.”

It took us a few seconds to pick our jaws up off of the floor and respond.

“No sir, thank you.”

I never know how to react when people thank me for being a firefighter. My wife always laughs when it happens around her, because she says I become a bumbling, awkward fool. While we were getting coffee at a bookstore one day I was thanked by the barista for “all I do.”  I awkwardly mumbled something about it being no big deal, and my wife laughed and told me it was.

I can’t help it. I don’t think what I do is that special.

Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. But I’m definitely no hero. I’m not worthy of anyone’s praise or gratitude.

That old man has probably, literally, bled for this country and for everyone here in it. He’s probably watched friends die thousands of miles from home at a time when many in his own home town couldn’t care less.

There is an honor and nobility to that.

I haven’t done anything like that. I didn’t get into this job to be some hero figure. I don’t want anyone’s praise. I don’t need thanks. It’s just a job. I get paid to go to work.

I’m a selfish person. Sure, I wanted to help people. I always have. But it’s not the only thing that keeps me going.

I got into this job because I’m an adrenaline addict. I got into this job for the heat that makes you feel as if you have the world’s worst sunburn underneath your bunker coat. I got into this job for the scream of sirens and the rush it brings. I got into this for the 8,000 things you have to do while you’re running hot to the hospital with 3 minutes to do it in.

I got into this because I can’t sit behind a desk.

I don’t deserve any thanks for that.

But thank you for telling me all the same.