Thursday, September 17, 2009


I hear the sirens and air horns now, especially the air horns. Not every time I hear them, but sometimes. Suddenly I am back on the trucks. Pulling on my bunker gear. Looking up a street on the map. Shouldering the straps to my air tank. Pulling up my three quarter boots. Putting on my gloves. I am back in it. I am back on the street. I can almost hear the radio traffic.

“Engine 1, Engine 51, Tower 1, Rescue 1, District 1 house fire….”

“Engine 7, Rescue 7 shooting. OPD is not on the scene….”

“Rescue 1, Rescue Boat 1 respond to assist Engine 7 and Rescue 7 with a drowning….”

“Engine 6, Engine 4,Crash 6, Rescue 6, Tower 1, District 1 plane down…”

“Engine 3, Rescue 3 person not breathing…”

“Engine 10, Tower 10, Rescue 7 District 2 accident with injuries involving entrapment…”

I can almost feel the adrenaline rush. See the red lights of the trucks. Hear the roar of the diesel. Then dispatch would give the report that always meant you had something serious.

“We are receiving multiple calls.”

“We have reports of people trapped.”

“CPR is being performed.”

Then I find myself listening for the reports from the first units to arrive.

“Engine 1 to dispatch we have heavy fire showing from a single story wood frame structure. We are pulling an inch and three quarter line.”

“Engine 6 to Orlando we have a single engine plane down in a tree. No fire. But we do have a fuel leak. Be advised the passenger and the pilot are trapped.”

I am back on the street. That mystical place I named so long ago, the other reality that exists just outside most people’s everyday work a day lives. It is a place that seems to exist in parallel to daily existence. Yet it is only a car accident or cardiac away for everyone.

The street was more than a physical place. It was a place where all of the safe guards end, and my job begin. It is a place filled with excitement, fear, tragedy, horror, sadness, despair, joy, and laughter. It was a place where everyday decisions had terrible consequences. I am going to the grocery store, or I will fix the wiring fixed next month. Where people died or were horribly injured because of these simple daily decisions. It was terrible place, or maybe it is reality. It was where I worked.

The street existed in the poorest homes in Orlando, and in the richest. It existed in back alleys and the main streets. It existed in brush fires, house fires, shooting, stabbings, hangings, cardiac’s, codes, drowning’s, and a thousand other emergencies. It was everywhere. I have houses or intersections that had been scenes and now were signposts in my life. That house is where I pulled the woman out of the fire that afternoon. I pass the intersection where all those people died on that Thanksgiving night when I go to the YMCA. I can see where I had the double shooting from the East/West Expressway. I can see where we tried to save a mother and three children that night in that fire, each time I get on the interstate. Across the street from those apartments is where we found that body that had been undiscovered for three days in the Florida heat. The reminders of the street and the years I spent on it are everywhere around me, like some kind of map of my life. A map that marks life-changing event for me and those I tried to help. Even now, thirty years later, the memories they produce are as strong as ever.

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