Enjoy what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life

It’s a saying that I holds true during most of my job but there are certain days and some times weeks that go above and beyond. The Hensel fire was going on back in June of ’02 and it was one of the worst and best fires I’ve been on. It started out as a rather rushed fire. We were in Casper getting supplies and weren’t even supposed to be available for assignment. There was a last minute change and we were tossed in with a strike force. We quickly bought needed supplies including a pair of boots for me. I will never again get a set of Georgias. By the end of the fire the top of my feet were worn through and bleeding and the soles were just one giant blister.

We ended up on the Hensel Fire where every morning started out with a long drive from camp to the area of the fire we were working on. A local rancher had been causing problems and we ended up getting diverted to a new area. We came to this beautiful meadow and set it up as our staging area for the day before we continued up to our part of the fire. Before we could continue though, the rancher decided that he didn’t want us continuing. The reason for this was told to me but I can’t say whether it was speculation or not so I’ll leave it out of this. What it comes down to is that the head of the fire was making a run for it as well so our div. sup. decided it was best for us to stage there until the run was done. It turned out to set the stage for a hell of a day.

We spent the morning watching helicopters dip from one of the ponds and eventually made our way up the hill side to get some better angles on the meadow so we could get some better photo ops. In actuality it was an excuse to just do something. That didn’t last long before we got bored and headed back down to the staging point. And shortly after, competition ensued… Friendly competition of course. Basic things like wood cutting contest, races, arm wrestling, anything we could come up with. It wasn’t long before bets were going around and everyone was having a good time. As you can imagine, when you’re used to doing a job that’s physically demanding, you tend to get restless when you have nothing to do. More importantly, people get creative. Getting more and more involved in competition most people got so involved that slipping away to get some mischief done became possible.

The mischief started out as a simple joke. Our crew was patched together from several crews which is normal. In this case, we had some real… unique individuals with us. One of the crews that got teamed up with us was a bunch of rooks. They had never really seen fire before, at least nothing big, and they were gullible as hell. So while a couple of us slipped away, a couple of us started telling stories of previous fires. They listened with awe believing everything we said, which at this point had actually been true. But of course being the pranksters that we are, we decided to take advantage of that.

Earlier that day, we had seen a duck that had succumbed to smoke inhalation and managed to get it tucked nicely away on a cow pie. After some effort, we managed to float it out into the pond that the helicopter was dipping from. You might be surprised to know how hard it is to slip away from a group, and set up a prank like this without getting caught. I still don’t know how we did it. Either way, somehow we managed to convince them that ducks only sleep while floating on cow pies. It even went as far as to convince them that they only sleep in the middle of ponds as a safety feature. They took thousands of pictures and spent hours trying to wake it. We told them that as long as the head is under its wing, it would never wake up. They finally gave up and we gave the poor thing a proper burial.

An Invitation Not Taken

It’s kind of an early post this time around. Instead of my normal every other Friday thing I got hit early with that pesky little critter that many of us know as a muse. I always feel like there’s something I need to be doing and my muse is constantly nagging at me to get something done. The problem is that my muse never tells me what it is it wants; it just wants something. Usually it’ll wait around for a convenient time for me but sometimes it just won’t wait. I haven’t figured out what entertains my muse but whatever it is, I guess I kind of enjoy when it happens. It provides a well needed, albeit short, break to the constant nagging. This time I got the urge to just sit down and write. Nothing in particular, just letting my fingers put down whatever they want. It started out as a few ideas then one thing led to another and I found an old rough draft. It was more of a very basic idea but after a little editing I have a short story. It’s nothing that will go any further but it was enjoyable to write none the less. Regardless, I felt it was post worthy so here it is.

 

An Invitation Not Taken

It’s a simple looking little restaurant that you happen by, the town’s closest thing to a cybercafé. It’s late at night and you pulled off the interstate to take a break from driving and grab a cup of coffee. As you walk by the large front windows, you look inside to see a sole occupant sitting in the bay window sipping on coffee and browsing the net. You can tell his story just by looking at him. You’ve been there yourself and seen it many times before. He has internet at home but he doesn’t want to be there. There’s a disinterested but isolated look to him. He doesn’t care about what he’s looking at, it’s not about the comp; he want’s companionship. It doesn’t have to be over night, even someone to sit and talk to would be nice. You suddenly realize that you’ve been staring and that you have a decision to make. Go into the truck stop and get a cup of coffee or risk this little restaurant and a conversation. A conversation would almost guarantee a longer stop than you wanted but by this time you have nothing to lose and the thought of stopping for the night sounds nice anyway.

You’re so involved in your thoughts that you don’t remember grabbing your coffee. All you know is that the aroma is like ambrosia to you. You cradle it in your hands breathing in the steam as you sit down in the table next to his. He looks familiar, there’s something about him. You don’t speak up and he doesn’t notice you, for now you just study him. You don’t try and hide it, he isn’t looking anyhow. Maybe it’s the situation that you’ve been in all your life or maybe it’s the look in his eyes as he stares at nothing at all. It’s a lost look and it hurts. He’s young, not more than thirty but more likely mid-twenties. He has so much more life to go and yet he’s lost hope in this little town but can’t bring himself to leave. What is it that keeps him here?

“I’ve seen that look before.” It’s a simple phrase spoken softly but he startles none the less, almost falling out of his seat. He’s been doing this longer than you thought. He looks around not seeing you at first, and when he finally notices you he does a double take. The conversation progresses as you expected. It bounces from topic to topic getting explicit on occasion but staying friendly and never venturing further. It’s sad really. He no longer has hope of finding what he wants; he’s happy with even the brief distraction that you offer. You talk through the night and find that he’s beyond dedicated to his job, addicted would be a more accurate description, and he loves his little town. There’s no way he’s going to leave at this point. He comes here every night hoping for change. This little town has so much potential and for some reason it just won’t grow.

As the sun starts to show over the mountains you see the warm rays flow over his face from the side. You suddenly realize where you know him from. A long time ago he was there to save you. He’s seen so many that you’re sure he doesn’t remember you. Now that the light is on him, you can see the age in his eyes. You never noticed it before; you were too involved in the conversation that you missed it. You can’t miss it now though, he’s tired and only going on because he knows it’s what he was meant for. It hurts more than you thought you could anymore. So many like you, he was there to save them when there was nothing to save. He gets up slowly, his body popping and cracking like he was eighty. He’s given more than his body can handle and as he walks out he offers a smile and thanks you for the company. As he leaves the restaurant he looks back over his shoulder and addressing you as if you were just another regular he smiles and offers one last comment. “I’m not done here just yet Nick. I think I have just a little left in me.” Of course he didn’t forget; he’ll never forget any of you.

Feeling almost foolish for thinking he might forget, you watch him go. As you sit there holding your coffee you think it’s funny; They may never ask for it and most may never see it, but even the rescuer need rescuing some times. You were sent here for a reason. You thought it was to offer an invitation; a simple offer to let it go, to finally rest. You weren’t told who you were supposed to give it to and now you know why. You knew him once even if for only a last couple of minutes. If you were told who it was you would have missed the night. You would have offered the invitation and left when it was turned down. He needed what you offered even if you didn’t know what that was. He needed a little companionship to help him go on. And at the end of the night it was that look in his eyes that let you know he wasn’t going to go tonight. You know this only because it was the same look that let you know he wasn’t ready for you to go. Sipping down the last of your coffee you fade out of this world, content to know that the invitation was still on the table and one day he’d accept it, even if he didn’t want to.

I Will Survive: A Dedication To Determination

All emergency fields provide difficult challenges and I happily get to work closely with many of them. There’s far more effort that goes into these professions than most people ever see. I’ve trained with multiple agencies and like many firefighters I’m also an EMT; but being on the fire department, it’s the one I hold dear to my heart and the one I know about personally.  I’ve been surprised to find that many people understand that a firefighter goes through rigorous training to join the department but think that it ends there. It’s a sad misunderstanding. Training only begins in the class; the real lessons are learned in the field for the duration of their career. Beyond that, there are constant refresher courses, and discussions to help expand our knowledge and refine our skills. This combined with their jobs takes considerable time away from family and friends.

The dedication to training is only one kind of determination though. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters show determination that goes beyond just training. I’ve seen them demonstrate determination in going on and doing what needs done when their own minds and bodies wants to revolt against them. When they’re sick, injured, facing problems in their personal lives, or having trouble dealing with things they’ve seen; it doesn’t matter. When the call goes out, they will put all that behind them. They are so dedicated that they’ll put the job above themselves, to the point that you have to stop them for their safety.  It’s that dedication that I feel and I take pride in every time I see this picture.

There’s a quote that sums up that determination perfectly. Florian von Lorch was a General in the Roman army in charge of the fire brigades. When faced under threat of being burned at the stake, St. Florian declared “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.” Now I’m not going to get into some religious debate here and I’m not going to go into great history about St. Florian. The material on those subjects can be found with a simple search and since you’re reading this I’m sure you have the ability to do that search in a matter of seconds. It’s the determination behind the words that inspires me. It’s the dedication that firefighters have given throughout their history, and one I am proud to continue on.

No matter what challenges we face, no matter how many times we are faced with a challenge or loss, we will always come back. We will always help those in need. It is said that a firefighter that has dies saving someone has not truly died… May I be so lucky as for that to be my fate. Moriar et oriatur ab igne cineres. (I die and arise from the ashes of the fire)

Nostalgia: Learning To Enjoy The Good Things In Life

In the back of a desk drawer there’s an old poster, it’s been there for ages gone by. I was once told it comes from a time when fires raged and people sacrificed themselves for the lives of others. I finally decided it deserved to be framed and while there, the shop owner informed me that the bulky subject of the photo was called an “engine” though it looks like no engine I’ve ever seen. The primitive clothes in the background, used for protecting the individuals that sacrificed themselves.  Oh what a life it would have been to live back in those days. The days of gallant actions and adventure around every corner.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that way but looking into the past has that effect on people sometimes. And I’m no exception; there’s always been an old poster on our department wall and it always gave me this feeling. I’ve always wondered in 100, 200, maybe 300 years, what are they going to think of the life and times we lived. Even looking back on the recent history of my department I find myself wanting to idealize it. It’s kind of funny how fast one develops a sense of nostalgia. Not long after I got onto the department, I was sitting around the fire hall, listening to the stories of some of the more seasoned members; I was in awe of their stories. They had such great memories and a joy to their eyes as they retold them. I was dying to experience those memories, to make some of my own. It was something that I knew I would have to wait many years for… It’s good to know from time to time that what you know can be wrong.

I’ve been working in fire for eleven years now and I had to pause a moment and chuckle when I found myself telling stories to the new rookies. I didn’t, and still to a point don’t, think they quite understood how good they have it. They tend to take some of the equipment for granted. It’s easy to do when that’s all you’ve experienced and it’s probably how my mentors looked at me. Who knows, they may still, though I hope it’s to a great degree less than they used to. I’ve seen a lot of changes and advances in our department and I try to take every little thing to heart.

When I first got on, our department was considerably smaller. We had way too much area to cover and far too little personnel and equipment to do the job effectively. We covered all of Johnson County except inside the town of Buffalo, giving us a total of about forty five hundred square miles. Our gear was old, outdated, and handed down from person to person. Our equipment was running but in constant need of repair. Even the hall was rented from the county. Our meetings were tailgate meetings and after a long fire, we all sat back cracked a beer and enjoyed a job well done. Those were the good times.

Don’t get me wrong, times aren’t so bad now. It’s just that I’ve seen a lot of changes go by quickly. There were new additions, new equipment and now a new hall. I find myself saying things like “I remember when” and “when I first got on” and the people I’m telling it too are newer than me while a few of them are older than me. It’s a feeling that I liked and I wanted to share with whoever might be going through the old department photos sometime in the future. I wanted to immortalize the last few moments of the old fire hall, so I took this picture just before we moved halls. It’s my dedication to the old hall when our bunks were by the engines and we weren’t above sharing gear. It was a time when the tailgate meeting was normal. In short, it’s a dedication to the good ol’ times.