I have never had a job where I made a life or death difference to people, hell I mail stuff for a living, but I have known a lot of policemen, firefighters and servicemen over the years who have such a job.
When I worked as a stage hand, there were a lot of firefighters in the union because their off days afforded them a lot of opportunity to work shows and pick up some extra cash. Of course they loved to regale the uninitiated with stories of blood and mayhem and always the dead fat lady who had been in a bathtub for a week before she was found. The standard crispy critter stories and occasionally the, “that cop asked me how I knew he was dead, ‘you’re not a doctor, are you??’ and I told him, ‘buddy, I ain’t no doctor, but I do know when the mofo’s head ain’t attached to his body no more he is dead!”
For several years I worked for a company across the street from Station No. 1, which was the biggest, nicest fire house in the city. It had a brass pole and they didn’t dance naked around it either.
Once, I was coming out to my car and I could see one of those dumpster trucks barrelling down Seventh Street at a clip and he had flames boiling out of the back. He had obviously emptied a dumpster that was on fire into his truck. I could tell he was headed for the fire station so I ran across the street and into the back door.
Ray, who was Captain at that station, knew me from the stage crew. They all knew I like to joke around and found it hard to take me seriously. When I burst into their break room to tell them that a truck was on fire, Ray gave me that look that says, “okay, what’s the punchline?” One lieutenant got up, ambled over to the door and peeked out. He came running back in yelling, “shit, they’s a truck on fire out there!” The fire truck rolled out the front door, turned the corner and stopped at the burning dumpster truck and they proceeded to hose it down.
When son1 was about 3 years old, the daycare called me and asked me to pick him up. He had a fever and they wanted to send him home. It was late in the afternoon, so I took him back to work with me and figured we’d leave shortly and go home for the day. He was standing next to me at my desk as I caught up a few last minute agenda items.
I noticed that he seemed kind of out of it and asked him if he was okay. He didn’t answer. I reached out for him and he went limp in my hands. He wasn’t breathing!
I grabbed him like a sack of potatoes over my shoulder and ran out the front door, stopping traffic on Seventh and dashed through the open front bay doors. There was one lone firefighter getting a coke from the machine.
I shouted at him that I needed help and laid my son on the cold concrete floor. I don’t know where they came from, but firefighters and emt’s came out of the wood work and swarmed my boy. I was choked with emotion as I watched them work on him. There were so many that I couldn’t even get close, but they would talk to me and tell me what was going on. I never felt like I was left out of the process.
The ambulance came and they told me they were taking him to Children’s Hospital. I followed in my car and called the little bride on my cell phone to let her know where I was going. Her friend from work brought her and they arrived nearly as soon as I did.
After a thorough examination the doctor told us that sometimes children have a fever spike up really fast and it puts them into a sort of seizure. He said they’re actually breathing enough to keep them alive, but you can’t always tell. Though not life threatening, per se, it can be a very scary experience for the parents. They released him to go home with us.
Later that night I received a phone call. It was one of the firefighters that was there when I brought my son in. He said that they all wanted to know if he was alright. My eyes still get a little blurry when I think about those men caring enough about my family to look us up and call.
Those men made a life or death difference in my family that day and I will never forget it.