One of the greatest things about the fire service is the comradery that develops among firefighters. Other professions simply call them coworkers, but we often refer to our coworkers as family.
Being part of the fire service family comes with responsibility and duty, to be part of a larger network with the obligation to support each other through good times and bad. It’s part of the fabric of the fire service.
Many of us who’ve taken on the role of big brother or big sister have provided support to firefighters who are dealing with marriage issues, divorce, death of a loved one, depression, anger and addiction problems, and the list goes on.
We’re in the business of helping people; that includes helping our own. To me, that’s part of being in the fire service family.
Sometimes we get busy with life and overlook being part of the fire service family, so I’m going to tell a story—a story that plays out often in many department around the country and highlights the true value of being part of a family. I originally developed this for our newly graduated recruits, but it’s applicable for all of us in the fire service.
This story is told from a firefighter’s perspective. Let’s say you arrive at your station early, the first day of your rotation, ready for duty, a little curious about what others have done during their four-day break. You’re assigned to ride seat 3 on the engine that day, so you start the shift with your crew, checking the equipment on the engine and ambulance: All equipment in place, batteries charged, tanked topped off, breathing apparatus in working order.
The quiet time is broken by a dispatch for a motor vehicle crash with entrapment. Your engine and ambulance are up. You quickly dress and jump on the rig, and the engine and ambulance are out the door. You hear the second engine and battalion chief mark-up on the radio as you exit the station.
Your officer is providing you and the driver with updated information from CAD: the call-taker reported a high-speed T-bone crash with an elderly woman trapped in a small sedan. Additional callers report smoke and multiple injuries. Even though you’ve done this before, you feel a few butterflies as you start to mull over different scenarios in your head.
You peer through the rig’s windshield as the driver turns, proceeds up the opposing lane of traffic and avoids the long line of cars at a standstill. Off in the distance, you see a two-car crash with people waiving you to hurry. Your engine arrives and takes a position near the car and your officer tells you to come with him.
Your meet with the medic crew as you and your officer size up the situation. You see an elderly woman in the car, pale and semiconscious. The second engine is arriving on scene when your officer tells you the woman is pinned below the waist and that a dash roll is needed. You get your tools and go to work, with the second engine crew, taking off the roof and preparing for a dash-roll.
As you cut, things start to play out in slow motion. You hear sirens in the distance, the crunch of metal being pushed and cut, and slight moans and occasional screams from the patient. You smell oil, blood and the ever-so-familiar smell of coolant from the broken radiator. The medic in the car has access to the patient, assesses her and begins treatment.
You’re successful with the roll and the crew extricates the woman on a long backboard. As you apply the backboard straps, you catch another glance of the woman’s face; subconsciously, she reminds you of your grandmother and you develop a little uneasy feeling in your stomach.
You help with patient assessment and packaging. Things don’t look good—multiple lower extremity fractures—but she’s in great hands with the firefighter/paramedic on your shift. You’ve seen him perform before and you have complete confidence in his skills. The patient is loaded into the medic and transported to UVA and you’re now focused on cleaning up the scene and getting the engine back in service for the next call.
As you prepare to go back to the station, you take off your coat to get in the engine and notice that your uniform is soaking wet from sweat; you didn’t even notice it while you were working. It’s going to be a long shift, dealing with a smelly turnout coat.
You look over as traffic goes by; people are in a hurry to get to worksome are frustrated with the backup, cutting in and out of traffic, while occasionally a driver checks their phone for messages. Everyone seemed to be unphased by what just happened in the intersection.
Back at the station, your cleaning up and checking equipment when the ambulance arrives back from the hospital. The crew comes in with terrible news—the woman coded at the hospital and didn’t survive. In a way, you’re not surprised, but subconsciously, you begin to replay the call over in your head.
The remainder of the shift was busy with calls, training and station chores, but you didn’t feel the same. Things don’t click. You’ve done this type of job before; what’s the deal? Maybe I’m getting the department GI bug?
The night you're somewhat restless—just one fire alarm call at 1 AM. The next morning, you’re relieved by the shift coming on at 6 AM: not much conversation; you’re ready to go.
You get in your car and start heading home. Before long, you notice you’re approaching the intersection where you stood just about 24 hours ago. People are busy with their day, going back and forth in their cars, unaware that someone recently died in this intersection.
You start to replay the call over in your head when your cell phone rings; it’s your buddy, a fellow firefighter calling to check in on you because they know how you felt. A trusted friend who’s willing to listen and offer anything they have to help you.
Even though you just left them at the station not an hour ago, you go on to talk about a number of things, including the most recent shift assignment: what exactly were those chiefs thinking?
You hang up later feeling a little better and grateful for your friendship—your extended fire service family.
It probably goes without saying, but the bond that you’ll develop when you invest in the family will help you through the good and bad days of your career. Remember, relationships are built on a foundation of appreciation, respect and patience. Take the first step and reach out to a family member in need.