Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Be very careful what you ask a Firefighter.

Be warned this one isn’t an easy read, so think about it before reading.

People ask firefighters strange questions. Bet you didn’t know that. Even friends and family that have known us for years will ask. I would be at a Christmas party or a summer BBQ or a school function for the kids and it would happen.

“Hey TimO. Can I ask you a question?” I knew what was coming most of the time. The people, mostly men, wanted to ask questions that they thought they knew the answer to. A question that would somehow empower them as men.

When you are the “Fireman” at a party of mere mortal men, for some reason, that is male solely, you are perceived by many of the other males as the alpha, and at most non-fire department related gatherings you are the default alpha.

The rest of the pack doesn’t get to run free like a firefighter does. They live and work in much gentler worlds where the social order isn’t determined by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Thus when influenced by an abundance of malted beverages and the hazy smells of fertile women that mostly dormant male gene awakens. Maybe his wife removed his man parts from the jar and allowed him to bring them to the party with him for a change, I don’t know.

What I do know is this kind of man invigorated by fresh air and a sudden rush of drunken testosterone feels the need to test his mettle against that of his perceived oppressor.

For most settings his wish wasn’t to be aggressive in a physical way, no, he wanted to show that given different variables he too could have been a firefighter, no big deal being a firefighter, and if I was a flame warrior then hell anyone could do it.

They knew me, I was nothing special and that pissed them off. They hated that the women adore their boys in blue and would constantly flirt with me and give me drive-bys just because of my job. Well damn they had hard jobs too; maybe they didn’t run into burning buildings like me, but in their fantasy worlds, in that tiny part of their brain where some maleness still lived, they knew they could do my job.

They knew given the right circumstances they would be a hero too. They knew if they were walking down a sidewalk and suddenly saw a house on fire that they would run in there and stumble out moments later dirty and blackened with a grateful child tucked under each arm.

All they needed was that chance to prove themselves men of the highest order, real men. They needed to believe that if things were different they wouldn’t be the societal eunuchs they knew themselves to be. This powerlessness and the three shots of Jack they had drank gave them the courage to ask me a question.

“You must see some crazy stuff huh?”
“Yeah I’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
And here it would come, give me your best shot, give me the gruesome details of life on the streets TimO, I can take it I’m a man too.
“Like what?” Most of the time I didn’t want to engage them like this. I knew the drill, I’d done it before.
“You don’t want to know that stuff Bob.”
“Yeah TimO I do.” First off I didn’t like being called TimO by those that hadn’t earned the right to call me TimO and it had to be earned.
In my youth I had made the mistake of calling a very senior fire captain by his nickname “Billy MaC” one day. He stopped dead in his tracks and swung around to face me.
“What did you call kid?” his face was red at the asking.
“Sorry Cap” I managed as I stumbled backwards at his approach. He dug a finger deep in my chest.
“You haven’t earned the privilege of calling me by that name. I’ll let you know if you ever do earn it.” He removed his finger and held me eyes for a few painful heartbeats. Then he walked away. I am proud to say I did get to call him Billy MaC years later.

“You know Bob, we firefighters deal with that crap all the time at work and I really don’t like talking shop on my days off.”

“Oh come on TimO, just give me an example.” It was always the little guys too. I thought of the movie Cool Hand Luke and the prison warden’s speech to Paul Newman.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well he gets it.” love that movie.

“Okay Bob, you have kids right?”
“Remember when they were toddlers and get away from you?”
“Of course happens all the time.”
“Okay, now imagine you aren’t sure where your toddler is one day. At the same you are wondering where the kid is you remember you need to move your car a few feet so you can get your lawnmower out of the garage. You jump in the car and back up two feet, on the third foot you hear a strange noise so you stop and get out of the car and there under your back wheels is that kid’s head. And she is still alive, you call 911 and when I get there you hand me your kid to save her. How about that Bob? Is that what you wanted to hear?”

His face curled in horror and I watched him as he vomited his hot dogs and beer. He never asked me what it was like to do my job again.

I don’t tell you this to horrify you, I tell you so you might know what we do isn’t always glorious. It has a cost and the men and women that wear these badges pay it. So if a rescue worker doesn’t want to talk shop at the Fourth of July party, don’t push them. Okay?


Corey said...


Kathy said...

That is a very good reason not to talk shop after hours. The horrors you must have seen!! You certainly don't need to be reminded of things like that in your down time. I would think it would take a special person to be able to stomach situations like that and be able to really help people and show compassion. You proved your point. I won't be asking you for the gory details during after hours because you just might give them to me. I hope the child was able to recover from something like that, but I would have my doubts.


Fireman said...

Hey Kathy, I'm glad I didn't offend you this is just something I needed to write.

November Rain - k~ said...

I find similar situations exist with people who want to peel back the layers of people who have fought in wars, police officers, EMT's, emergency room Dr.'s and nurses, rape counselors... etc... There must be some kind of morbid curiosity portion of the brain that pushes people to ask.

I rarely ask, but I have one of those personalities that you might find in a bartender, whose sign reads "Keeper of Secrets" because I have heard my fair share... enough to know... enough to be respectful... and still listen when the need arises in one that needs to talk because the vat inside their head is too full.

Honest, raw write Tim. Bravo!

♥ß∃∀υ₮iƒuL| DIs∀sⓣ∃я♥ said...

Honest write, and I loved it! I definitely wasn't offended by it at all. Some of the things you have have to endure, I wouldn't blame you if you had a few blogs like this one. Venting is good :) I do agree it does take a very special, compassionate, kind hearted person to be able to do a job like yours! Considered yourself followed, or stalked as I like to say! ;)


Fireman said...

Thanks Rain and Jessie, I know the bartender routine for sure Rain from both sides of the bar:) stalkers are always welcome Jess. Right after I posted this my father emailed me and was upset, he wanted to know why I hadn't continued on the the dating tale. I guess I should put a bow on that one.

Jenn said...

A great way to put what you do in perspective. My husband is a Parole Officer (he doesn't see horrors--but he has to look some pretty sick people in the face everyday), my brother is a police officer (he sees it all working in Pontiac) and my mother is a nurse, (CICU, ER, Trauma, Hospice --she's been at it awhile, she's seen too much). I've heard the funny stories, the tragedies, the triumphs, and although I've "heard" I've been very careful not to see. I am just not cut out for what you and many I know have to deal with in your everyday line of work. I have all the respect in the world for what you do--because I believe it takes a special kind of person to do your line of work--and I thank God people like you are there when needed-- unfortunately I could never handle doing what you do, on an emotional level. And you are right--when you have a day off--you need a day not to think about what you might encounter next.

Thanks for sharing...I enjoyed reading what it feels like when you get asked. Cheers, Jenn

Fireman said...

Thanks Jenn, so you know the drill. Tell your family thanks for their hard work for all of us.

November Rain - k~ said...

Yaaaayyyy :-) I am looking for the bow!

Jo said...

I'd like to begin by saying Thank you, Tim. Thank you for the service you gave your fellow man and now thanks for helping those of us on the outside to understand.
I know a few brave, even heroic men who put their lives on the line for no other reason than that someone must. I admire and respect all of you and am humbled in your presence.
That being said, I am in no way offended nor horrified at this story. I am in awe. Putting that man in his testosterone laden place was a good and proper call. Exactly what I would have expected from a hero.
Your writings are always worth the time to absorb and mull. Some for the humor and some for the lesson. Some for the knowledge.
This one is a lesson for all who need to be reminded that heroes have hearts and they should never be tred upon. ♥