This photo was taken on the 15th of September, 2001. My dad, a Captain in the fire department of our city, was at the main intersection working the “Boot Drive”, where the firemen were collecting money to send to the families of the fallen in the World Trade Centers. They had the ladder truck set up, a flag flying on top, and a this large flag across the side of the ambulance. It was really touching to see them holding out the boots to passing cars, and to see the passengers fill those boots with change and dollars by the fistful.
I wanted to follow up on my thoughts for Memorial Day. I know that the holiday is intended to celebrate those who have given their lives (and I say literally as well as figuratively!) in the service of their country. But they are not the only heroes that we need to celebrate. You don’t need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor. (Name that movie quote!)
There are plenty of other folks that serve every day for our country. We spoke of them on the National Day of Prayer, and I was so touched that the pastor remembered them in his prayer. Fireman, policemen, dispatchers, utility workers…the list goes on and on.
We live on a spit of sand that is surrounded on three sides by water. One side is the Pacific Ocean. We also live in a subduction zone, which means that at any moment, the tectonic plates that are always grinding against one another as one plunges beneath the other may slip…and we are in for the so-called BIG ONE. We live with the threat of tsunami every day. Even if the earthquake is far from here, we could experience a wave that would inundate our city, which is only 12 ft at it’s highest point.
When I was a young adult, we had our first tsunami warning. It was from an earthquake far out in the ocean, but was considered serious enough to evacuate the city. Dad called Mom to tell her to take us and leave. We had about five hours warning, so we were able to load the car with what was most valuable to us, as well as some supplies, before leaving. We had to leave Dad behind. As a city fireman, he was expected to stay in the city to evacuate any housebound residents or those in need of medical attention. They would be the last to leave the city. Thankfully, it was a false alarm, and the wave was only 1 ft tall when it came ashore.
A fireman’s family sacrifices every day without really knowing. We grew up in the Fire Department, so we didn’t know that it wasn’t normal to have your dad jump up from dinner and go rushing out without eating. Or to be awakened by the sound of the tones that call the fireman out in the middle of the night, and hear his truck roar down the road. To have him miss school functions and special events because he was unable to leave the station. To never celebrate the Fourth of July with a big family evening, because he was always out fighting fires set by other celebrants. To have him gone for 24 hours at a time while he was on duty.
We opened gifts on Christmas morning before the roosters, because Dad was on duty that day and had to be done by 8AM. We opened gifts late Christmas morning because Dad was coming off duty and stayed a bit later so that another fireman could have a nice morning with his family.
We were lectured about doing crazy stupid teenage things, because my mother would never forgive us if my father had to scrape us up off of the pavement because we had been disobedient. We often got lectures about what someone else had done wrong, and that Dad had to work on in the ambulance.
Ironically, we did scare Dad a couple of times on that account. Not through our own stupidity…we were far too scared to do THAT. I was dating a volunteer firefighter when I was in high school, and we were coming home from a dance at the school. Just ahead of us, a car had driven off of the road and flipped on the rocks below. We stopped to help.
I was smart enough to call my mother and tell her that I was AT the accident, but not IN the accident. We forgot to have the station tell my dad that, as he raced to the scene in the ambulance. He arrived and found my date with his jacket off, shirt untucked, hair whipped wildly by the wind, pointing paramedics towards victims lying on the rocks.
Dad took a deep breath and stopped him to ask where I was. I’m sure that he was relieved to find out that I was comforting the ones that had crawled back up on the slope on their own.
A few years later, my brother was riding in a small Volkswagon Rabbit with 6 other kids. No, they were not all seat belted! In fact, my brother and another girl were laying across the laps of the three passengers in the back. When they came face to face with a truck coming around a curve, my bro took one look and passed out. He didn’t even remember the impact. He broke the arm of the other girl laying across the laps, as she put her arm out to stop him from flying through the windshield.
Once again, my dad was on the call. He was irritated when the ambulance pulled up to the scene and the high school principal stood in front of his door and began to brief him on the accident. He wanted nothing more than to get to the kids and start assessing their needs. It wasn’t until Dad’s partner returned and told him that his son was in the accident, but unhurt, that the principal moved.
Because the fire department shared a lobby with the police department, the firemen knew a great deal about what was going on in town and who was or was not a ‘bad guy’. Dad always threatened to run a check on any boy that I dated! He scared a lot of them.
One night, a young man and I were saying good night at the door. (For a long time, I’ll admit.) Apparently, the tones had been called out, and the next thing that we know, the door flew open and we jumped apart. Dad barked, “You are gonna have to move your car!” and that boy jumped. He was so freaked out that he turned the wrong way at the end of our road, trying to get away from Dad!
We also had some really wonderful experiences, though, while our Dad served the city and the residents there. One Christmas Eve, a man had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. Because he had four children at home, the firemen and their families jumped to help the children celebrate the day anyway. They found funds to go shopping for gifts, food, and a tree (which had yet to be purchased by the destitute family), then arranged with local merchants to open their doors for a special shopping excursion. I was a teen at the time, and I babysat the firemen’s children as they did this good deed. We all had a wonderful Christmas!
We often read our father’s name in the paper, when they saved lives. We grew up as a part of a close knit family of brothers in arms. We were proud of what our fathers – or mothers – were doing, and were happy to do what we could to facilitate their service. The fire families stood by one another, socialized, and came together in crisis. When storms would tear apart roofs, knock out the power, and topple trees, we would all gather at the fire station. It was warm and dry there, with the generators going. We could play and talk together. Meanwhile, our firemen would don their gear and go out into the storm to do what they could to comfort – tarping a roof, boarding a broken window, helping the bedridden get to warm surroundings.
During a storm last winter, our firemen were asked to stay at the station for days on end, as the power was out and the city had been isolated by fallen trees. There were literally no routes out of town. We are a small city, and that meant that access to the local hospital was also blocked. Dad was worried about any major health concerns, as they would have to deal with them locally until the roads were clear.
I know first hand the compassion that these men and women have. Having taken two trips in the ambulance myself, I have been a recipient of their kind and reassuring touch. My first trip was for an ovarian cyst that had me in so much pain that I could hardly speak. After four tries at painkillers, they finally had me comfortable and able to transport. The paramedic laughed as we pulled out of town, saying, ‘What a great job…getting the boss’ daughter stoned!’
The second trip was much further, as they transported me to the University Hospital 3 hours away. I was 32 weeks pregnant with the baby, and my water had broken. They had no idea if I would deliver on the trip, or if they would have complications with the baby…it was a little scary for all of us. My dad got to ride with me, though, and that made it much easier. He joked and laughed with me, inviting the nurse and paramedic to join in, and soon, I was laughing and relaxed.
My poor dad also has to put up with his grandchildren running to him with every bump, bruise, ache, or rash, and asking him what it is. Many a night, we have had to run to Dr. Poppa to show him something!
He has seen macabre accidents, murders, and sudden death. He has walked into fires that would singe your eyebrows. He has given his life to be of service to his fellow men. I know that the same can be said of those who are in law enforcement, medical personnel, and emergency staff. The utility crews who brave the weather to restore power so that we can watch TV…which seems to be the thing that folks miss most when the power is out. (so that they can see the news coverage of the storm – pretty funny!)
Take a moment to thank a hometown hero for all that they do to keep us safe at home!