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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I’m not trying to brag. In all honesty, I’m a pretty modest guy. But I have good instincts.
At least, I have good instincts in the back of a box. They haven’t really let me down yet. Granted, I don’t have the kind of experience many medics and providers have. But I have enough, combined with my gut, to generally carry me through the day.
The guys I work with know this. I work at a multicompany station. That is, we have a truck company and an engine company. 10 people. Out of these, 90% of our medical calls are handled by myself and FireMedicBA. He has about 3 times the experience I have, but trusts me enough to ask my opinion and evaluation.
Typically, that’s not a problem.
A few weeks ago, while roved out to another station, we were dispatched to a report of a patient suffering from an altered level of consciousness at an assisted living facility. We arrived to find a man in his mid-80s laying on the floor. The nursing staff had found him this way. His blood pressure was well over 200/100, and the medic on the engine I was with (who is a relatively new medic), tried to do a full assessment. I told him we needed to load him up and leave. The arriving ambulance crew agreed. Long story short, our patient ended up being admitted for a massive stroke.
I’ve learned to trust my gut.
Today, I hung around a few extra hours to work for a friend of mine on the next shift.
About an hour in, we catch a run to a local sorority house for a report of an unconscious female in the doorway.
In a college town, this can typically be stereotyped as an inebriated sorority sister. That’s typically what it is when we get there.
Today, though, it was different.
We arrive with the local EMS service to find a young female seated in a chair. She’s pale, diaphoretic, and barely responsive.
She didn’t look drunk. She didn’t look high. But she had the empty, glazed stair of someone very sick.
When we left, one of the firefighters with me asked me what was wrong with her.
I honestly didn’t know.
I figure it was one too many diet pills and one too few waters. But that’s just a guess. What I do know is that she was sick.
And my gut let me down, because I didn’t really have an answer for him.
“Something wrong bud?”
In EMS, they teach us to look for pertinent negatives. If they’re not having chest pain, not nauseated, not short on breath, then they’re probably not having a heart attack, and it’s probably something else.
My stepson has the pertinent negatives. He’s not happy, not stuffing his face, and not talking. Especially not to his mom or I. And he’s definitely not crying (he says).
Sounds like girl problems. Or at the very least a bad case of the teenage angst.
Sigh. He and his sisters have been with grandma all week, and this is what we get when he gets home.
One day at work, we ran a drug overdose call. It was my rookie’s second or third shift, and he was definitely new to the wonderful world of EMS.
We walk in to the house and find a young woman in her mid 20’s laying on the kitchen floor, barely breathing. Her boyfriend is there next to her. His parents are standing in the living room holding a baby. They’re nicely dressed, respectable people, obviously unhappy with where they are and what’s going on in front of them.
“What’d she take?”
“Fentanyl. It’s her drug of choice. She drew up a hit for me and a hit for herself, and when I came back to do mine she was like this.”
Long story short, a little Narcan later and she was awake, talking, and pissed to have come off a killer high.
When we got back to the station, my rookie walked over to me and asked me if it’s always like that.
“That dude just talked about shooting up like she’d just poured a couple shots of whiskey or something. And he had no problem telling you about it.”
You know, it’s funny. We’re not cops. When people have to call us after snorting, smoking, shooting up, etc, they usually don’t have a care in the world about telling us. It’s almost like they’re inviting you into their world as if you were an old friend.
Most people end up talking. Women talk about periods, drug users about their habits, gangsters about their babies cough that has them scared shitless.
And yet I can’t get my own kid to tell me what’s going on in his world.
Sometimes, this parenting shit sucks.