Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I am Writing this to Remember

I am writing this to remember, to understand, to document things, the things that I did and the things that others did. It is about the war we fought. Not in some far off country but in our hometown. It is about a war that is fought everyday in every hometown by men and women just like me. It is like the Stineyman said one day.

We were at some kind of training, a bunch of paramedics punching out some training requirement ticket between real runs. I don’t remember what the training or how our conversation got on the topic, but Stineyman summed it up best I ever heard.  Steiner was a big rambling bear of a man who moved with the grace of a natural athlete. He used to make bets that could out run much smaller and slimmer men at a local track. He usually won. Anyway in the midst of this training he said “we fight death when we come to work.” That was the truth.

We came to work to fight it. To fight it when we were new and young and thought we would save them all. We fought death when we were older, wiser and more experienced and knew we only save a few. We fought death when it did not seem we would ever save anyone again. We fought death when we finally understood that the point was not how many you saved but that you fought the fight. That you went to work and did what you did because that is what mattered and that is all that mattered. You continued the fight because that is what you did. The saving or not saving did not matter as much as showing up and doing it the best you could.

You did it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade until you looked up and you could see the end of things. Retirement. You could feel the end in your knees as they ached and hurt most days. You feel the end was near in your back where it would hurt in exactly the place it used to kill you after working CPR for a long time. You felt the end in your should where you tore your rotator cup when you dislocated your shoulder years before throwing a ladder. You felt the end was near, when a partner dropped dead of cardiac at home one day after coming home from his second job. You could see the end was near when other guys quit, retired out with injuries, like Larry, Ray or DJ with wires in his back because they could not stop the pain any other way. You knew the end was near when you saw younger men and women come and go long before their time. But the fight continued. You still climbed onto the red trucks and fought the fight. It is a war with no end, no truce, and no sympathy. People continued to die not naturally but stupidly or carelessly and it was up to you to pick up the pieces. To fight the fight.

You finally after decades began to get some perspective, some wisdom from all the pain and suffering. You begin to under stand your role in a lot of the tragedies. It had been what you signed up for all of those many years ago whether you understood it or not. You became part of something few understood. As the end neared you wondered. Wondered if had been a good fight. If it had been worth it. If all that you saw and did really mattered or were like Stineyman in his races running in a circle real fast to show off.

Then you are sitting at a desk one day and it is 9/11. You watch the towers fall. You know that are hundreds of firefighters in those towers and you feel this huge rush of sadness. It had been a huge tragedy when six guys were killed in Massachusetts. This was so much bigger you could not get your mind around it. Maybe a hundred guys.  Then you heard the first reports of two hundred guys. Two hundred guys like me. Then three hundred and finally the number reaches 343. Three hundred forty three guys. Jesus. Then the sadness is replaced by pride. Pride to even be in the same profession as these guys. Guys who responded when the bell went off. No other priorities, no other goals. It was their job and they had signed on. To even be a part of a profession that produced such men was suddenly a source of huge pride. They were not extraordinary men, they were ordinary men who did an extraordinary thing. That is what made what they did so significant. Ordinary men called to an extraordinary thing and to a man stepping up and doing it.

They were just firefighters who went to work to fight death. That day they saved thousands as they died. In their death they made you realize just what you and all the others had done. Why the fight was important even in the small tragedies you saw every day. They made you proud of what you had done. They gave to you something that had gotten lost. They gave you understanding.

There were guys on their last shift and they went. They were guys on their first shift and they went. There were guys who called home to tell they families they loved before they went. There were guys who left notes to their families and they went. They went knowing that there was a good chance they were not coming back. They went because it was their job and if you signed up then you did the deed. No raise if you went. No bonuses. They went because they were there to fight death. To fight the fight, no matter what. And because they went they gave back to you something that had been lost, something that you needed back.

We all did it for our own reasons. But to me they gave me back why I had done it. And in so doing they gave back to me the smoking baby, the man with no arms, the drownings, the cardiacs, the accident with injuries, the shootings, the stabbing, the fires and all the rest with perspective. I had done it to fight the fight, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. No more and no less than that, to be there when someone called. To stand with men and women who no matter what, went when the bell hit. That was something. That mattered. And that is all that mattered. 


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