I watched through the window of the station as Chief Roger’s fire SUV rolled in the parking lot. The only thought bouncing around on the hamster wheel in my head was, not this man, not this man. I was almost in tears, but you don’t cry in a fire station.
Word had spread quickly through the house that I was being yanked off the truck and taking for testing. I don’t know if the officer I was working for that day even really knew what was going down; his link in the chain of command had been skipped.
I waited on the apparatus floor away from the crew for Chief Roger to come in. He hit the back door wearing dark sunglasses and stepped in. “You ready?” was all he said. I moved toward him and he just spun on his heels and went right back outside.
I followed him to his SUV and got in. I was a wreck; my mind was spinning, thoughts of the end of my career filled my head. What a way to go out, I had always, as I am sure many of my brothers do, thought I’d go out better. Maybe even get lucky and die in a fire, but not hung over and at the hands of an enemy.
We road in silence, he never spoke or removed his glasses. He had both hands on the wheel and eyes straight forward. I waited for him to smile, to gloat, to enjoy this sweet moment he had all to himself. Finally the great TimO was on his knees, head squarely on the block and he held the axe of his redemption over my neck.
I imagined he had already called my ex to share the great news.
“Hey wanted to give you a quick call. You will never guess what just happened. Tim showed up at 8’s drunk… I’m serious, I’m going to get him right now and have him tested… Yeah it is great news… I let you know what happens… Oh yeah he’s done you won’t have to worry about that bastard anymore.”
I could see my ex doing a little dance around her kitchen and my children asking her why she was so happy.
“You know when all this went down, when you kicked me out 12’s and treated me like a problem and not a friend. That really hurt, but what hurt worse was you never once asked me how I was doing, not once. You knew I was in the deepest shit of my life and my friend never asked me how you doing Tim, how you holding up, can I help you, hey you wanna grab a cup and talk? Nothing that’s what I got from my dear friend”
I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t hold the tears or my tongue. What the hell I was done anyway and I was never known for my ability to restrain myself.
Then I saw it, a tear ran out from under his deep dark sunglasses. That white shirt and gold badge did in fact cover the body of a man and not a machine. He still didn’t look at me.
“What was I supposed to do TimO? I knew you hated me for what I had done, what I felt I had to do. If I asked you how you were doing you really think I would have gotten a serious answer out of YOU? You would have sliced me up like lunch meat and probably in front of your crew.”
His hands gripped the wheel with great force, his knuckles turned white.
“And then what? I am a chief officer for the damn fire department for Christ sake. You would have been insubordinate and in more trouble. So I let hate me, it was easier than dealing with you. You know why I’m your chief? Because anyone else would have you fired, all the other chiefs won’t deal with you. You are a damn good firefighter and probably the best medic we got. Hell TimO I’ve been in fires with you I know the work you do, and if someone I love was hurt or sick, you are the guy I want working on them.”
Now he looked at me.
“But damn it TimO, you are a pain in the ass, you take up too much of an officer’s time, managing you is a nightmare. Your abilities are beginning to be out weighted by your liabilities.”
We had arrived at the testing facility.
“Get your shit together TimO, I am your friend and that is why you are here. We are going to get you the help you need, and then maybe someday we will have that cup of coffee, as friends.”
He got out of the car and walked away. Only now years later with sobriety firmly under my belt, do I have the full awareness to see what had happened.
Not only had this man gone out on a limb for me and accepted my hatred, but that in fact many had joined him on that slender branch. For some unknown reason they saw in me what I didn’t. That I was a good fireman, a good medic, and most importantly that I was a good man.
Tortured, abrasive, disrespectful, insubordinate, and above all damaged. They did in fact care for me, not as a co-worker, but as a person as a friend.
I have made my amends to most of them as I have worked my way through the 12 steps of AA, as I have been taught. But there is one that stands above the rest. Chief Tommy.
I pulled into the parking lot of the fire department admin building and got out of my car. As I turned toward the building there in mid stride in the driveway was Chief Tommy.
I saw it in his eyes, he quickly looked for an exit, some escape from me as I walked toward him. Now understand this is one huge man, he looks as if he were carved by Michelangelo, so I’m not saying I physically intimidated and wouldn’t have wanted to.
I stuck out my hand.
He took it.
“Chief I need to tell you something. Thank you for saving my life. I’d be dead if not for you and you should know that. I know you have taken a lot of grief from the guys for what happened that day and I’ll try my best to let people know I admire you for what you did. Thank you truly.”
I watched as that burden lifted off his shoulders, right in front of eyes he grew a few inches, his chin came up and his eyes softened.
“Thank you TimO. I have doubted that decision every day. Did I do the right thing?”
“Without question Chief. I mean it you saved my life. You are a good man and I’ll say that to any man that wants to know.”
I’m way over here today on my count trying not to leave you guys hanging, but there is more, sorry.