Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm Tired

I'd like to say "WE are Tired" but I can only speak for myself. This past week had has plenty of work for everyone from linemen to EMT's. We've all been putting in more than any of us thought we could, especially the trained volunteers. The storm damage in my district was bad, but not terrible. I don't consider being without electric for 6 or 7 days a big deal. Tiresome yes, but just an inconvenience. The districts just up the line in our regular mutual aid areas saw almost total devastation. Main connecting roads through the mountains have been cut in half, isolating parts of the county. The statistics show it best, stating that this type of flooding should only occur once every 100 to 500 years. It was the worst natural disaster to hit our County in recorded history.
 So why am I tired? Well, it's not so much the 'why', but the 'what' that is wearing me out.
I am tired of politicians getting in front of every camera available to tell the voting public how hard they are working, when they can't supply us with the materials or resources to do what needs to be done.

 I am tired of these same politicians that can't use their 'on air' time to get critical information to the general public about what is going on, how they can help, and what is needed.

 I am tired of hearing people come into shelters telling us how rough they have it because they don't have hot water, electric, or cable TV. The sit at the shelter and whine when they could be helping a neighbor who has REAL problems clean out the mud from their home.

 I am tired of news crews sticking cameras in my face looking for a story while I am just trying to do my job.

I am tired of getting 7 good clean hours of sleep, only to wake up exhausted from my dreams.

I am tired of driving my engine over roads that may give out from under it at any time.

I am tired of the tourists that don't understand simple signs that say "LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY" or "ROAD CLOSED".

I am tired of tourists that feel it is more important for them to get good pictures of ruined homes and livelihoods than it is to get the hell out of our way and let us do our job.

 I am tired of seeing my brothers and sisters in the service working 20 hour days and not having been home to take care of their families and damaged homes in over a week.

 I am also tired of seeing other 'brothers and sisters' who could easily give up some of their spare time to put in a 12 hour shift to let some others check their families and get some sleep, but instead turn a blind eye to the need.

 I am tired of road crews that drive around downed trees and lines because "this is not 'our road'".  Take 5 damned minutes and top the tree and open the road making it safer for EVERYONE.

 I am tired of walking around with a lump in my throat from seeing all the ruined lives and homes.

 I should also mention what lifts me up and gives me hope.
 I am encouraged by relief workers that know their job, work tirelessly and always manage a comforting smile and supporting words for those truly affected. (You can usually recognize these folks by the bags under their eyes and the tired expressions when they think nobody is looking.)

 I am Encouraged by the citizen volunteers that step and and offer to do any task and don't walk away when they realize it is hard work. They stay there, get the job done and move on to the next task. (You can recognize these people by the sweat stained shirts and the constant upbeat attitude and smile on their faces.)

 I am encouraged by the Civil Engineers and equipment operators who are faced with incredible challenges and are stepping up and making it happen, pulling off engineering marvels of reconstruction I would have never thought possible.

 I am encouraged by Volunteer Fire Chiefs and Officers that have stepped up and worked non-stop  for 8 days to do whatever could be done to organize communities and help their neighbors. Never turning a person in need away, and never losing patience, in spite of all the "help" they were getting from the politicians.

 I am thankful to Be'la Fleck and the Flecktones who could have understandably canceled their concert in the heart of the devastation and instead worked to make sure they could put on the show and turned it into a benefit for the victims. On top of that, they invited all the first responders and their families in for free. What a great night and welcome respite from the carnage. Be'la and the band came down on the floor after the performance and spent time sharing stories of their own losses in the Nashville earlier in the year, as well as listening to the stories of those affected here and now. They truly are a fine bunch of gentlemen and spoke with us like old friends.

 Here is a slideshow of the area showing some of the damage. The stuff further up the mountains doesn't appear here because those areas are still being opened up.

I spent a 12 hour shift out in the heart of these areas yesterday so that some of their crews could attend to their own families. This is the third '100 year flood event' those folks have seen in the last 5 years. Most came back to work as soon as they could, some never left the station. It was strange to pull in and report for duty when the first question they asked us was "what can we get for ya'? Did you eat yet?" Their hospitality was ingrained, I guess. We came out to help them and they were making sure we were comfortable and well fed. Just amazing.  Anyone who came into the station could not leave without being asked "Is there anything else we can do to help you?" Yeah. we worked hard doing cleanup from the previous days 'relief drops and public distributions", but they treated us like family. We helped distribute RED Cross supplies, give directions to Federal Workers, find sources for odd requests, and generally make ourselves useful. We put their station back into normal response mode before we left for the night. We came home very tired last night but feeling good about a hard day of meaningful work. I should have known it wasn't over, we were driving back to our station around 2100 and were flagged down by a LEO who inquired if we could assist with a cardiac emergency. We did the initial workup and treatment for a lineman in his truck that could barely remember what day and time he had come into work. An odd call in another district that brought together responders from 4 agencies, including an off duty State Trooper/RN/Paramedic who happened to be getting gas for his generator. One final example of people working together without boundaries.
 It's been a long eight days, but I've had it easy and God was good to me and mine. Many of the people I've talked to and worked with over this week will takes years to recover, some never will.

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