I spent the first decade of my 25 year career with the Providence Fire Department assigned to engine and ladder companies. The department was flush then, the coveted spots in the “busy” companies filled with senior firefighters and people who knew people. I didn’t know anybody that could get me a prime spot, so I worked mostly on the East Side, where the city still flourished and fires were fewer. Still, plenty of fire came my way, and I loved every second.
Life has a way of getting in the way, and just after 9-11 I was detailed for six months to Rescue Co. 1 in South Providence.
I ended up staying for personal reasons. Eventually I found that EMS was my calling, even though I never realized it until I was nearly through.
Looking at life through the rear view mirror keeps us living in the past. I’m glad I was able to look forward, and make the best of the second part of my career, with no regrets.
The bagpipes, the dress blues, the stories of friendship, of sacrifice, of bravery, camaraderie and accomplishment; these are the things that drew me to the fire service. The bucket brigade, Jakes and Pikemen, then Laddermen and Hose Jockeys, horses in the barn pulling the steamers, dalmatians, bells and whistles, airhorns, sirens, flashing lights and everything that ties us to the past and brings us into the future have a solid place in my heart, and always will.
I am a fireman. My kids know it, and their children will know it, and with any luck, their kids will too. My helmet will probably hang on a hook in a garage not yet built, gathering dust until a child finds it, and puts it on his head, and begins the journey that I have taken. I wish him well.
For the last nine plus years I’ve worked in the Providence Fire Department’s EMS division. It isn’t often now that I have the opportunity to don the turnout gear, and put the helmet on my head. I miss it. But I have no regrets.
EMS traditions are not as glamorous, or colorful, or respected by most. They never will be. Funny thing is, I’m more proud of the nine years spent on a rescue than I am the ten I spent on engine and ladder companies. There is something about the personal nature of this job that attracted me to it. And, a few traditions that mean more to me than anything else.
Professionalism. Compassion. Competence. Excellence.
Every time, without fail, that a family member or friend needed an EMS response, those responders were excellent. Not good, not adequate, but exceptional. My father, who in the final stages of cancer would hallucinate and become unmanageable at home was treated by EMT’s from the Warwick Fire Department not like a nuisance, or a silly old man, but like a Korean War Veteran, and engineer, and son and father who needed help in his last hours. My mother, the victim of a massive stroke while visiting family in North Carolina. By all accounts the EMT’s who responded acted the same way, and managed the scene with grace and dignity. The EMT’s from the air ambulance that flew her home, with me on board exuded such expertise I never worried about a thing. They helped my parents, and in doing so helped everybody whose lives they had touched.
I often hear about people who were involved in a car accident, or had an allergic reaction, or whose grandmother was choking at the restaurant, or the million different reasons we are called. One thing remains the same, by all accounts. The EMT’s were simply awesome.
Big boots to fill. I’m proud to fill them.
My wish is that some day, when the kids find my old helmet hanging in the garage, one of them sees the old jacket, the one with the Providence Fire Department patch on one sleeve, and the EMT patch on the other, and I hope he puts it on.
And I hope he never looks back.