Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, EMS people and Firefighters,
I bumped this post up, because Randy’s such a darn good guy.
This post is placed with the permission of the author, Randy Lovelace EMT-B. He’s a friend of mine and a firefighter/EMT-B at a department where I work. He wrote this article after a training that our department completed and it was just published in our department’s monthly newsletter. I believe that the post needs more exposure, because it is just great. It exemplifies the camaraderie and community spirit that is embodied in our small-town department (that runs about 3k calls a year). We’re an anomaly, our small-but-proud department. We’ve got a fanatically devoted, passionate group of highly trained volunteer firefighters and EMTs that provide the best possible service to our citizens.
I’ve taken out the references to our department because I try to maintain my anonymity to provide another level of protection of patient confidentiality. It doesn’t detract from the piece.
Thanks Randy, great article.
In Their Eyes
Last Saturday, May 30th, the Mid-Size Midwestern Fire Department held training for all members at the Greenlee Farm site. Everyone that came was kept busy with all the work of training evolutions, scenario management, fire control, safety, and finally, the actual burning of the house on the property.
Throughout the morning, people started coming out to the site to see what was going on and find out why there was so much activity. Many of those people, however, were family members of the firefighters. There were wives, children and significant others all interested in seeing what we do and how we do it.
For the firefighters, the activities were fairly fast-paced. Most of the training was geared towards fire suppression, which required teams to advance hose lines into the burning structure, identify the source of the fire and its fuel, and correlate the conditions inside with a method of fire attack that would result in the maximum possibility of success while subjecting the firefighters to minimum risk. Some new operators were manning the pump controls on the engines, others were shuttling water from the nearest water source to our site, and dumping it into porta-tanks for use by the firefighting teams.
Instructors, safety personnel, training officers and operations officers all worked throughout the morning, checking everything, verifying that all risks had been mitigated as much as possible, and that all planned training was taking place on time to previously determined standards.
For many of the firefighters running evolutions against the scenarios, this was their first time in a burning structure beyond our training tower. This was their first time fighting fire in scenarios where the fire could get away from them, and their first time in conditions where the heat was a physical entity – attacking you as soon as you entered the house.
Our probies proved that morning that they knew how to properly check their nozzle and hose line before entering a structure. They remembered that you turn the nozzle head to the right (for a stream pattern) to fight the fire, and verify you have water, not air, coming out that hose. They didn’t know that our primary interior training officer was intentionally setting the nozzle for a fog pattern every time a previous team got done, just to test what they did remember. Even our newest firefighters remembered that you position yourself outside the hose line as it turns around a corner, and they all got to experience what it truly meant to back up the nozzle man – that they were his eyes, his guardian angel. They learned how much they could ease the work of aiming the nozzle for the nozzle man, or make it extremely difficult to even hit the fire if they positioned themselves improperly. They demonstrated that although the fire was exciting, it was a known force, and they were to look for the unknown dangers lurking in this burning environment in order to protect themselves and their partner.
Our new firefighters all came to understand the reason for properly wearing all their gear even outside the burning building. They got to feel the immense heat of the fire from 10 yards away, and they felt how much their gear does shield their skin from that heat. They learned that a fog spray from a nozzle can create a magic barrier, insulating them from the heat and allowing them to complete tasks near the fire.
At the end of the day, we had probies and rookies saying they’d never been this hot, they didn’t remember a time when they were this tired. Firefighters of all levels of experience were drenched in sweat, looking for any place at all to sit down, rest and cool off. This day, everyone worked their tails off, everyone was tired, and most had aches of one sort or another.
It’s days like this when we could have been mowing our lawns or napping in a hammock that each of us asks, “Why do I do this? Why do I give up my free time to train so hard?”
The answer to those questions could go in many directions. We could say there’s nothing better to do, it’s for the adrenaline rush, it’s for the camaraderie, it’s to get far away from the Wife’s Honey-Do list. But, reflecting honestly, I think we work and train like this for a different reason. I believe a small piece of each of us wants to be a hero. I’m not talking about saving the world all by ourselves, and I’m not talking about the rush to disaster when all others rush the other direction. I’m simply talking about doing something that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and doing it well enough that we end up making things better, not worse, for all involved parties. I’m talking about doing the right thing, serving our community doing things that others will not or cannot do.
The belief I’ve just stated, however, was modified on Sunday, the day after our training burn and all that hard work. I got a phone call from my daughter, relating something that happened between my son-in-law (a firefighter) and his son, Austin.
Austin was at the fire on Saturday, and he watched everything he could. His eyes were flashing in every direction, seeing what was going on, where the fire was, what the firefighters did to contain it, watching pump operators, watching hose line tasks, listening to the commander give instructions over the radio. He looked for his father, wanting to see what Dad was doing. When his father sat down, Austin joined him, assuming the same posture. And Austin had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a child’s face during that entire time.
When he got home, Austin wrote his father a letter, and drew a picture for him. The letter, transcribed exactly, read:
Dear daddy I loved waching the fire. It was one of the most coolest things I ever sean. I sean a fan fall that was fun. When I get older I hope I am going to be a firefiter. Just like you.
(transcribed with permission from Austin and his Dad)
After my son-in-law read this letter, he was quoted as saying “Aw Buddy, that’s great. Thank you. I love you, too!”
When this story was related to me, tears began to form in my eyes, and I started to understand that I just might be wrong about this entire process. These people I trained with on Saturday, they’re not probies and rookies and veterans and officers, these people are family. I don’t train with them, and go to calls with them. I work with them. I work to protect them. I work to accomplish things together that we could never finish alone. And they all do the very same for me. We nurture each other, we care for each other, we make each other better people that any of us thought we could be.
This firefighting family isn’t a replacement for my own kin. But they’re a perfect model of our families at home. We do the same things at the department as we do at home. We protect and nur
ture, we prepare, we train, we work at home just as we do with the fire department.
I realized that we say we have many reasons for being volunteer firefighters, but in the end, we do it for our families. We do this because we have a need to teach our own how important it is to do good things. We teach them that rewards aren’t always monetary, quite often, they’re heartfelt. We teach them that hard work can be its own reward. In this process, we get benefits as well. We raise children that aspire to be like us, children that are excited for what we do, even when they see how hard we work and sweat to accomplish our tasks. We’re teaching future members of society to love the work we love, and we are preparing them to replace us when we’re too old to continue the exhausting pace that firefighting demands. We’re teaching our children that success exacts a toll – exhaustion, aches, sweat, time. Success demands that we first be ready for a challenge before we can tackle that challenge. And we teach them the sweet taste of victory when we’ve done all that work. We provide them with functional families, homes with love and caring, places to be safe from the rest of the world.
As you prepare for Father’s Day on the 21st, take time to reflect on what you’ve just read, as well as the following concepts. Please note, the phrase “father figure” implies gender, but there’s no gender requirement to be a father figure.
1. If you mentor, you’re a father figure to the one benefiting from your tutelage.
2. If you lead, you’re a father figure to those you command.
3. If you’re the Fire Chief, you’re a father figure to the entire department.
4. If you have children, you’ve already met at least 2 of the previous tests.
For each of us, there’s one more benefit. Austin said it in his letter and all of our children have said the same at one time or another. We’ve already done what we’re still hoping to accomplish. In their eyes, we’re already heroes.
Comments on this post will be read by the author. He deserves kudos.