Why do you do it?
This is a question that I asked myself a hundred times over the years when I was a first responder. Even though I could not really answer the question I knew it was something I loved doing. The adrenaline rush of rolling up on a working structure fire is a drug to most firefighters. Ask em they will tell you!! Once the fire is knocked down the “reality” sets in of the damage that has been caused such as someone loosing everything in their house.
I just imagine the adrenaline “drug” rush the first arriving companies from the FDNY had when they were rolling up on the world trade center on 9/11/2001. 343 brother firefighters were lost on that day, they had no idea when they began their tour that that would be the last time they report for duty. Aside from the 343 lost brothers that day, what about the other firefighters on scene? Their lives are changed forever, many of them were there for days, weeks trying to recover their lost comrades.
Many years ago I somewhat stopped asking myself why I continued to be a first responder. I responded to an incident involving a school bus crash. The school bus was carrying an elementary class on a field trip. I was shopping at the grocery store when the call was dispatched, and it didnt sound like anything real major so i finished up shopping. I began hearing the medics on scene call for additional ambulances to the scene, and finally called dispatch and said to call the neighboring countys ambulance service and have them respond with all the ambulances they can spare, and to also call the hospital and have them issue a code white. (code white puts the hospital into disaster mode) I stepped up my response and headed to the scene. When I arrived it wasnt anything real major ( in my eyes) it was basically a school bus had rear ended a car that was stopped along the road. The reason for the massive response was the fact there was approx 28 children on the bus. None had major injuries but all were scared, shook up, and each needed to be attended to. Once we got all separated and the onces that needed to be transported by ambulance were taken, we had about 17 kids that were put on another bus that was brought to the scene. The IC (incident commander) gave me the responsibility of being the first responder that would be on the second bus as it was going to the hospital. On the way I basically did what I could to keep the kids calm, I jumped from seat to seat making sure I talked to and made each child feel safe. Upon arriving at the hospital the kids exited the bus and were evaluated individually. I finally after a couple hours was able to get the groceries home, some of which was spoiled as it was a pretty warm day. About a week later the fire station paged me to call them, when I called i was asked to swing by as there was something there with my name on it. I stopped by later that day and there was a large manila envelope with firefighter brad wrote on the outside. I opened up the package and my heart melted, Inside was a hand made card from each of the kids on the bus thanking me for being there with them that day. These cards said everything from your my hero, to i want to be just like you. Also inside was a formal letter from the superintendent thanking me for what i had done and telling me the impact that I had on these kids because i cared for them. My fire chief was there as I opened it and he smiled and said “good job brad” and why dont you get some of our goodies (pencils, color books, etc) and go out there and see the kids this week. So thats what I did, a couple days later. As soon as I walked in the school I saw one of the kids and they knew me right away. As I check in with the office that same kids i first saw ran to the class and told the other students that I was there. When I walked in the class they were really excited, but i think honestly I was more excited to be there just to see their faces.
Life as a first responder isnt a glorious, glamorous job, it isn’t always easy. I have seen and had to do things things that I wish no man see or do. But looking at it there is these little times, these “nuggets” that we are given that in some way take way the bad even if it is for a short time, we still have that “nugget” that we hold on to and look back on to remember why we do what we do.