It’s hard to believe…
Five years ago today I started working as a paid-on-call firefighter/EMT for the City of Woodbury. What started out as just something I was curious about has become a part of who I am. Sounds a little overdramatic, I’m sure, but it’s true. I can’t imagine not responding to calls when people are sick, hurt or are watching their house burn.
Truth is, I was never one of those kids who said “I wanna be a firefighter.” I don’t know. It just never sounded like all that much fun. Waaay back when, I wanted to be (in no paritcular order):
– FBI agent
Well, I sorta got to do a couple of those. Remember Tutankhamen’s tomb? That was mine. But it was one of those things. Laura and I had recently moved to Woodbury and I was at a period where I hated my current job. I was bored beyond belief and since the writing thing wasn’t going anywhere, I was feeling like I was stuck being a cubicle jockey for the rest of my life and not contributing a thing.
As we drove by the fire station near my house, I saw the sign (and it opened up my eyes) asking for people who were interested in joining the force. I thought I’d give it a shot, not knowing it was part-time, paid-on-call or what some people consider ‘volunteer.’ I filled out the little form and before you know it, I was at a meeting and they slapped a 35 page application form in front of me.
I had 2 weeks to fill it out. I looked at the thing and wondered if it was worth the effort. Those were the days when if anything took me any extra work, I didn’t want much to do with it. I guess I’d become sort of a cynical, miserable dude who complained about how lousy my 9-5 was, but didn’t want to do a thing about it. They wanted the last 10 jobs I’d held. Every address I’d ever lived at. How many tickets had I gotten? Etc…etc…etc…
The deadline to turn the stuff in loomed.
Guess when I filled it all out?
That’s right, doctor. The day before.
Months go by. I hear nothing. I’m pretty certain I’m not wanted. I feel like a manuscript sitting on a slush pile somewhere in ol’ New York.
Yeah. Just call me Mr. Optimism.
Next thing you know, I get a letter and a thing saying that orientation starts on September 11th, 2 years after the terrorist attacks in New York. Needless to say, it’s easy to remember the date I started.
In that year, I went through fire training:
We were a lucky class. The local outlet mall in town had gone out of business and they gave us free reign to tear the place apart. We cut holes in the roof, smashed down doors, chopped holes through walls…
I studied harder than I ever had. I had a real penchant for the fire stuff, often getting the highest scores of the class whenever we were tested, which NEVER happened to me in high school or college. I discovered I have no fear of heights. I also learned quickly that I’m good at rescue. I did well whenever we had drills where we’d crawl through fire and smoke to try and find a (fake) victim lying there. Never knew I had it in me.
Then of course, we had EMT class. Though I may have said it before, I’m not much of a test-taker. Sure, I did well on the fire tests, but the EMT tests really grounded me and made me realize how dumb I really could be. Maybe I’ve got some affliction, but the 5-6 months of EMT class put the hurt on me. I didn’t read any other books but my text. I stopped watching movies. I spent a lot of free time at the station with other probies learning what I could.
Even still, I failed my final EMT test the first time I took it. I missed a passing grade by 1 stinking point.
Determined not to give up because I truly loved doing it, I took the test a couple weeks later and got just under a perfect score. Boo ya!
Of course, all during our training, we were asked to respond to calls. I remember one that was particularly grisly. I can’t give the details, but it took all 4 or our stations, a helicopter and our ambulance ended up with a dead body in it.
Over the years, I’ve been on all sorts of calls. Plenty of heart attacks where I’m breaking ribs while giving CPR, driving the ambulance like a life depends on it, and rolling up to a fire scene that has the entire doghouse (the place in the back of the fire truck where we sit) saying “Holy #@%*!!!”
We also go out to schools and block parties, have kids show up for station tours and all sorts of different things. We’ve sent people to places where the devastation from hurricanes is too much for their own resources. We cut people out of wrecked cars.
Here I’m rolling the dash.
Thanks Woodbury Fire and all the guys and gals I serve with. I’m a changed man because of it all.