Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Best and the Worst in people, all in the same day

 I am home sick today fighting off an upper respiratory infection and instead of doing what I should be, resting and preparing for a class I have to teach tonight, I am really goofing off and writing this post.
 Too bad for you.

In my orientation training, I often tell the new folks that they need to be prepared for the way people will react to our presence on scenes. Some appreciate us, some don't. Some realize our jobs can be difficult at times, some don't. Some will do whatever they are asked, some will fight you tooth and nail and try to find ways to make things difficult and even dangerous for everyone on scene. Some will be having the worst day of their lives while others, in spite of the hardship, will find a bright spot to focus on. This past weekend, we had such a day where we saw both sides.

 It was our annual 'Santa Run' where the Department teams up with the big Jolly Elf and brings him all around town on the Engine to check on all the little girls and boys and make sure he has their wishes down correctly on his list. We generally run a small truck or Ambulance out front, Santa on the pump deck of the Engine in the middle, and a Rescue or Tanker at the rear to provide a blocker. None of our roads are straight around here and we need to keep the scene safe for Santa and his helpers (one or two Firefighters). Our District is big enough that we could never do it in a single day with just one crew, so we have three out covering the various sections.

 I like this detail because it tells me a lot about our first due area. Where the vacant houses are, which roads are in bad shape, new roads, new homes, where the small children live, where folks have built new ponds (draft sites), etc. It's also neat because if you work with Santa, you get to meet some neat little kids and the whole crew gets a real recharge out of it. Some folks even drop a donation or two in the candy cane bucket Santa carries. One year we returned for a warm-up break at the Station and found that one family had made a large thermos jug of hot chocolate for us and left a sizable check with a lovely thank you note for all the times we had helped them out over the past year, as well as for bringing Santa by to see their little girl.
 So that was our 'feel good' part of the day.
 In the evening, one of the Companies was having their annual Holiday get together at a local restaurant and as a Captain I was invited along with my Wife, to join them. Everyone had just arrived and the Chief was buying the first round of drinks, while the food was being brought out, as we stood at the bar passing the drinks back and delivering them to tables everybody's cell phones starting beeping with text messages. I had my wife's drink in one hand, and my beer in the other, so I hurried over to the table after sipping off the top of my beer to keep from spilling it, put them down, and reached for my phone just as the pager went off.
 The Chief immediately stood on a chair and said, "If you've already been drinking, I shouldn't need to tell you to stay here", then we all listened to the dispatch, there wee a LOT of tones coming through, always a bad sign.
 Structure fire. "Damn!" I thought as I looked at that golden, local brewed, jewel in my glass. It called to me, but I looked at my wife, shrugged my shoulders and grabbed my coat. "I'll be back soon." It looked like a scene out of the old days, 30 Firefighters empty the bar in thirty seconds when the alarm goes off.
 We arrived with all apparatus to find a worker, fortunately it was not a home, but a large shed that contained the homeowner's small workshop. It was burning hot enough to melt the siding off the house 25 feet away. We went to work and knocked it down quickly, cooled the house and checked the inside for damage or extension. The house was fine except for the siding damage. The shed was a total loss, it had some gas, yard tools, chainsaws, mowers, and other usual household goods in it as well as all the homeowner's tools. We had a little excitement when the mag wheels stored within got hit with some water and flared up, but other than that it was controlled in 5 minutes, and cleaned up in an hour.
 The downside was looking at the homeowner's faces as we worked. I didn't take a front line hand in this one, preferring to let some of the new guys get their hands dirty. I stood in the back and looked for problems or offered a bit of direction here and there. This gave me time to see the effect the situation was having on the owners. They've had a tough year. I was here a few times to handle medical calls that involved the PD and now they had lost the tools that supported the family. The wife looked heartbroken, and the husband was busy consoling his wife and telling her that things would work out somehow. I walked over and checked to make sure that they were OK and hadn't gotten hurt when the fire broke out. Then I gave the husband a pat on the back, and the Wife a hug. These were old friends and ten years ago we spent a lot of time together, when the kids were younger. Scouts, soccer games, school, etc. We'd see them all the time. It was tough to see them hurting like this. Still, I trotted out the same old line "Look, you guys are OK, your house is OK, nobody got hurt, and all the tools can be replaced. Focus on the important part." It might have made them feel a little better, but it didn't help me much. I know it's gonna take them a while to get back on par.
 "Look", I said, "you need me, you call me, Right?" The husband looked at me as his wife reached out and touched the arm of my coat. "Yeah" he said, "You always seem to be around when we get into trouble, Thanks."
I went off to help pack the truck.
 From one end of the spectrum to the other in under 12 hours.
(By the way, when I returned to the restaurant, my beer was still where I had left it, but I could swear SOMEBODY had taken a few more sips from it. I eyed everybody in the room with suspicion.)

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