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.