While those days for me are gone now, that excitement will always live on in my thoughts and the stories I tell. Being a firefighter is a way of life. We don’t just put out fires and save lives; we are part of the bedrock of our communities. We are there in both good times and in bad; before and after the incidents. There are many, many moments in a long career. Most are complicated and some are very dangerous. A majority of moments have good outcomes, but many of them are sad. All are challenging in their own way. All make great stories to learn from.
Because I served in a variety of positions from firefighter, paramedic, company officer, and chief officer I witnessed an assortment of situations. So, here are a couple of my better memories.
A Man Down
I was a fairly new paramedic when my partner and I entered a sixth floor apartment for a call of a “man down.” We were met at the door by a frantic woman screaming, “My husband’s dead!” There was a man lying on the floor, unresponsive with a pale face, eyes staring upward, and lips a light shade of blue. A quick look and listen for breathing found that he wasn’t. A feel for a pulse discovered there wasn’t one. The Lifepak 5 paddles that were placed on him revealed he was in V-Fib. His heart was out-of-control and it wouldn’t last much longer. The paddles were charged with energy and a check was made to make sure everyone was clear of his body. With paddles positioned on his chest, the red buttons were pressed sending an electrical charge through his body that slightly jolted him. Nothing changed. A second shock of energy was delivered. Now he made a sound and there was “some-kind-of-rhythm” on the Lifepak monitor instead of that chaotic V-Fib that was there earlier.
Our “man-down” now had a weak pulse, but he still wasn’t breathing. A breathing tube was inserted into his trachea, an intravenous line was started and some drugs were administered to help stabilize his situation. By the time we arrived at the hospital emergency room, he had a strong pulse and was trying to breath on his own.
Three months later, that man (I remember his name to this day) came to visit us at the fire station. He looked great; nothing like the lifeless body we found on the floor that day. He thanked us for saving his life.
Get The People Out!
It was early in the morning when we left the scene of a motor vehicle accident. The sun hadn’t even come up yet. The talk in the cab of the fire engine drifted toward coffee and breakfast. The decision was made to make a store run. Suddenly the alert tones sounded over the radio and we were dispatched to a structure fire in an apartment complex. Our breakfast plans forgotten, we quickly changed direction and responded to the fire. Even though we were supposed to be second due there, because we were already on the road we arrived first, a good six minutes ahead of everyone else. This made for some intense moments for three firefighters and one fire engine.It was difficult maneuvering the fire engine through the parking lot because people were running everywhere. This was a scene none of us had ever experienced: a large fire engulfing two apartments on the second floor; thick, black smoke covering most of the building, and people everywhere, including inside the building.
It would have been easy to just pull a hose line and start putting water on the fire. We didn’t do that. The math for us wasn’t good: three of us, a handful of sheriff deputies, and lots of people still in the building. We chose people first and began working toward getting them out. The driver-operator started pulling dry hose lines in preparation for fighting fire. The company officer (me) and firefighter climbed the stairs to the second floor and searched the apartments closest to the fire. At the same time, people were directed to exit the building from the second floor. No one was found in the apartments nearest the fire. Once the building was searched and evacuated, and more firefighters arrived on scene, the fire was brought under control and stopped from destroying a majority of the building. No one was injured, no one died. All of the people got out.
These memorable moments, while etched in my mind, are told everyday by firefighters and paramedics around the world. The stories are mostly the same, just the location and the people are different. It always takes a team of competent and willing firefighters to make it happen. Challenging and dangerous situations are confronted, difficult decisions are made, and the firefighters live the rest of their lives with the memories of those outcomes. I am honored and thankful to have lived that way of life and to have the memories that go with it.