“Rescue 3 a still alarm.”
The blow lights woke me before the PA system came to life. I looked at my watch through blurry eyes and was shocked to find that I had been unconscious for ten minutes. It felt like hours. When a call comes in to the Fire Alarm office, the dispatchers, after sorting out the information from the caller hit a switch on their console beginning the process of dispatching the proper response. On our end, the first indication that we are going out is the activation of the “blow lights.” Every overhead light in the building is wired directly to the fire alarm office, when they trip the switch the building goes from serene darkness to intense daylight. A few years of experience equips you with a sixth sense, a low hum, only able to be heard by some species of canine and rescue veterans fills the air before the light blinds you. I felt the lights before they came on.
0004 (12:04 a.m.)
“Rescue 3, respond to 8 Stimson Street for a man bleeding from the head.” I keyed my portable; I never had the chance to take it off of my belt.
“Rescue 3 on the way.
I rested for a minute on the bunk trying to figure out if this was a dream or reality. Just in case I wasn’t dreaming, I slipped on my shoes and headed for the truck. Renato was already there, the motor running.
“I know where that is!” Renato exclaims. “My brother used to live over there. We’ll be there in no time!” I am refreshed by his enthusiasm. There is nothing worse than a miserable partner. With Mike leaving I’m worried about my future on the rescue truck. Renato seems to be a great guy, but most young guys want nothing to do with rescue. The thrill of firefighting is understandably something that takes all of the good guys away from EMS.
We rode to the call in silence. I silently asked myself why I do this. The money is better, but the real reason is because I am one of the fortunate few who can say he loves his job. For ten years I worked the engine and ladder trucks. I fought a lot of fires in that time and learned a lot. The adrenaline rush felt while driving toward a fully involved house fire in the middle of the night, past people running away from the inferno’s with what belongings they could gather carried on their backs is indescribable. The pungent smell of smoke gets heavier the closer you get. Running into a burning building that anybody with a rational mind would be running out of is something that firefighters live for. I’ve spotted ladder trucks next to burning buildings, extended aerial ladders and rescued people hanging out of windows. On cold, wintry nights on rooftops full of ice I’ve clung to precipices, straddled peaks and chopped holes to ventilate. I’ve forced open doors, or knocked them down and attacked fires from the inside. I’ve dragged inch and ¾ hoselines equipped with a Task Force Tips capable of discharging 50-350 gallons of water per minute through smoke filled buildings. I’ve felt the heat, then found the fire; it’s destructive power raging unchallenged and unstoppable, gaining strength; until it met me. I’ve given the order, “turn in my line!” as flames rolled toward me and overhead, threatening to flash over, waiting for the pump operator to open the gate in time to release 90 pounds of pressurized water to the end of my line. I’ve knocked the fires down and waited for the smoke to clear. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Then, I was transferred to the rescue division. I was only supposed to go for six months. I found out that I wanted to stay. Had I not spent ten years on the front line firefighting trucks, I never would have been able to change my career path. I still miss the smoke and fire, and some day might go back. For now, EMS is my life. It is more suited to my personality anyway. Thinking back to my childhood and the dreams I had, it was the obvious choice.
The popular television show Emergency was my favorite show back in the seventies. Johnny Gage and Roy Desoto were my first role models. As early as I can remember, I wanted to do this kind of work. When we played war games as kids I always wanted to be the medic. My vision of wartime heroism never involved killing the enemy, rather I dreamed of running through the rice paddies in Cambodia, bullets whizzing past my head, close enough to smell gunpowder, mortar rounds exploding all around me with dead guys everywhere. Disregarding my own safety I would go to the aid of my fallen comrades, taking bullets along the way, spitting out shrapnel and pushing morphine into the wounded soldiers. Once I killed their pain, I would carry the fallen on my back, using the fireman’s carry, back to the jungle and the safety of my unit. “Thanks Doc,” was all that I needed to hear.
“Rescue 3 on the scene.” I said into the mike.