As I sit at home, in the darkness of late night peace, I absorb the silence….the absence of noise….screams, cries, pleas….silence….the treasured commodity of firemen….
No alert tones or lights to violently startle us into action at any given moment…no tension in my muscles as I lie in my bed trying to force myself into some sort of meaningful slumber…
Just silence, relaxation, and reflection.
I am not broken, not yet, but I am battered. Or am I?
Like an old warship that is battle scarred, decorated with combat ribbons, wise and tired.
I have learned that my job is my job, and my time away is recovery from my job. Weariness stalks us all.
The fear from the Beast taking me is fading, the fear of making it to the end of watch healthy now creeps in like water through a crack. The smoke and fire won’t get me….but will something else?
I am wise, experienced, seasoned….bulletproof? My mortality is no longer important to me for myself, but for my wife and children. For if I am gone, I will not suffer, they will. I want to see my children grow up, marry. Meet my grandchildren. Fear for me is no longer dying, but dying too early.
The things I have seen, heard, smelled….words do not exist to describe it. People ask….”What’s the worst thing you have seen?” I will spare them. Spare them from the world they don’t know and if are lucky, will never know. But….we know it’s there….like a shadow hiding in the dark with a knife that wants to pierce your heart….what the public doesn’t know would steal their innocence. Their souls would be cut to the core.
My brothers are now slowly fading into the pages of lore. Instead of celebrating a new beginning, we are honoring an end to a distinguished career. Men who have been beaten down by politicians, the abusive side of the public, flames, sleep deprivation and Father Time.
My back hurts. My shoulders hurt. My knees hurt. My mind hurts. My soul hurts. When I was young and naïve, I always thought, “just one time doing it wrong won’t kill me.” If you are lucky it won’t….but it will break you later.
We as firefighters have three ways to go. The three “B” ‘s. Back steps, bars or bugles. The back-step is for the young, new firefighter who is eager and untarnished. The bars, lieutenants and captains are for the seasoned guys who are not yet broken and want to stay in the fight. The bugles take away the physical part to an extent but add to the mental assault on our sanity. It’s what we chose….and its still not fair. Not fair to us, not fair to our families. But fairness in our line of work is a fallacy, a fairytale that we all know is there but always out of reach. Life…..and death…..aren’t fair.
Scars, medals, sore joints and muscles, nagging injuries, jaded minds, worn hands…..PTSD? Absolutely. These are the perks of a long commitment to public service.
Smiles, tears, cries, sleepless nights….seared memories….the smells, sounds and sights of many an insomniatic, noisy incident scene are always there. Blank stares into nothing by lifeless people are tattooed on all of our souls. We are poisoned by something to which there is no antidote.
Firefighters come into the profession and way of life like a child enters the world. We are innocent, eager to learn, passionate.
Life and death are cruel, corruptive, harsh, inconspicuous, unforgiving and sharp. Sharp like a razor that cuts so deep that the scar is always there. It may heal on the outside, but we know it’s there and remember how we got it.
If you are smart you learn early that death comes calling to everyone. Wealth, power, possessions, social status, it doesn’t matter in the end. We are all buried in the same size grave. Often we have no say when we cross over. Death is cold, heartless, unflinching and inevitable. When it is your time, it is your time.
When, if we reach our last alarm, if we have reached it healthy, our pension hopefully awaits. We are caregivers of the people, it is now our turn for The People to care for us. Yet there are bastards out there trying to take our hard earned peace from us. This is our thank you for many years of mental and physical anguish and abuse we have absorbed. It’s not a privilege, we have earned this.
Bravery and courage are terms thrown out at random for idiotic reasons in our modern times. Only those who have been truly brave know what it really is. We will never claim bravery, because we know if you have to claim it, it’s not real.
That is why I love my night….at home….in the quiet. No tones, no screams, no radio traffic, no sirens, no red lights, no yelling…..just silence.
I hope someday I can sleep again….sleep without the faces, the tension, the foreboding anticipation of blazing into the dark of night for the unknown…..I just want peace…..and the faces to go away…..