I wish you could know what it’s like to search a bedroom for a trapped child with flames rolling above your head, your palms and knees searing as you crawl, while the floor sags under your weight as the kitchen below you burns.
I wish you could comprehend a wife’s horror, at 3 in the morning, as I check her husband of 40 years for a pulse and find none. I start CPR anyway, hoping to bring him back, knowing intuitively it is too late, but wanting his wife and family to know that everything possible was done to try to save his life.
I wish you knew the unique smell of burning insulation, the taste of soot-filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of flames crackling, the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in the dense smoke-conditions with which I’ve become too familiar.
I wish you could understand how it feels to go to work in the morning after having spent most of the night, hot and soaking wet, at a multiple alarm.
I wish you could read my thoughts as I respond to a building fire; “Is this a false alarm or a working fire? How is the building constructed? What hazards await me? Is anyone trapped?”
Or as I respond to a medical call; “What is wrong with the patient? Is it minor or life-threatening? Is the caller really in distress or is he waiting for us with a two-by-four or a gun?”
I wish you could be in the emergency room as the doctor pronounces dead the beautiful five-year-old girl that I have been trying to save for the past 25 minutes, who will never go on her first date or again say the words, “I love you, Mommy.”
I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine, squad, or my personal vehicle, with my foot pressing down hard on the pedal, my arm tugging, again and again, at the air horn chain as you fail to yield the right-of-way at an intersection or in traffic. However, when you need us, your first comment upon our arrival will be, “It took you forever to get here!”
I wish you could know my thoughts as I help extricate a teenage girl from the remains of her automobile. “What if this were my daughter, sister, my girlfriend, or a friend? What would her parents’ reaction be when they open the door to find a police officer with hat in hand?”
I wish you could know how it feels to walk through the door and greet
my parents and family, not having the heart to tell them that I nearly did not come back from the last call.
I wish you could know how it feels to dispatch officers, firemen, and
EMTs, how our heart drops when we call for them and no one answers back, or to hear a bone-chilling 9-1-1 call from a child or a wife in need of assistance.
I wish you could feel the hurt when people verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse us or belittle what we do, or when they express their attitude of “It will never happen to me.”
I wish you could realize the physical, emotional, and mental drain of
missed meals, lost sleep, and forgone social activities, in addition to all the tragedy my eyes have seen.
I wish you could know the bonds of brotherhood, the self-satisfaction
of saving a life, preserving someone’s property, being able to be there in times of crisis, or restoring order from chaos.
I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy tugging at your arm and asking, “Is Mommy okay?” …and to understand how it feels not to be able to look into his eyes without tears in your own, not knowing what to say…or to hold back a long-time friend who watches as CPR is being performed on his buddy while they take him away in an ambulance. You knew all along he did not have his seat belt on…this is a sensation I have become all too familiar with. Unless you have lived this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, who we are, or what our job really means to us…
We wish you could though.