Friday, April 6, 2012

Weak Firefighters will not be tolerated.

Firefighters have to be cautious about how they show weakness in the fire house. I don’t mean physical weakness, although that will become self evident after awhile, I mean weakness of mind, body, or spirit.

Any weakness will be exploited by your co-workers as a tool for torment, entertainment, and sabotage. Firefighters will pry, dig, and investigate your defenses over and over until they find that “thing” that one little defect in your character that bugs you.

Once located the “thing” will be explored, much in the same way an enemy force uses small reconnaissance units to probe a foe’s defenses, firefighters will, at first test their discovery for its true depth.

Being aware of this proclivity in firefighters, I as a newbie decided that rather than have my true weaknesses reveled, I would offer up a false irritant to my tormentor as a distraction and as a way to play the game on my terms.

The member of my crew with the job description of Grand Inquisitor was none other than my old buddy Billy-Bob. I believe this is where our dysfunctional relationship first took root and 25 years later was still rocky at best.

Billy-Bob being the country bumpkin he was found himself chronically surrounded by city slickers. Refined people, educated people, people that used a knife and fork to eat, and people that only used toilet paper once and then threw it away.

We used to say that somewhere in America there was a village desperately searching for their idiot and that we had him, all they had to do was contact us and we would gladly pay for his bus ticket back to whence he came. Billy-Bob didn’t like me right from the beginning, probably because of my vocabulary, I had a tendency to use big words like “it” and “the” correctly in my sentences which frustrated him.

Billy made it his mission to try and find the character defect I possessed that he could exploit for the purpose of torment. He was very stealthy for a big man and his subtle ways made his actions nearly impossible to detect.

While we were eating lunch one afternoon he made his approach.
“What bugs you kid?” he asked.
Having not yet suffered the many lessons I was to acquire over my career in dealing with the not so nimble minded I quickly and without looking at the long term consequences of my actions answered. If you recall the events that lead me to becoming a firefighter in the first place, it was based on shooting my mouth off to a previous employer.

“Well Billy-Bob, I guess world hunger and man’s inhumanity to man, bothers me. I’m frustrated that the Peter Principle is in fact true, and what really gets me is that in society today being well read means you have subscription to People magazine and the National Enquirer.”  

He sat there blinking his eyes between shovel full loads of enchiladas.
“You being smart with me kid? Cause you are still on probation and I do have some input with the captain on your evaluations. Right Cap?”

Captain Tubby was reading one of his Louis L'Amour novels there at the table. Without looking up from his paperback Captain Tubby answered.

“Whatever you say Billy.”
“See kid. So without being a smartass tell me, what bugs you, really?”
I took a quick bite of enchilada and used a mouthful of food as an excuse not to talk for a moment. I had a choice to continue showing off with the Hillbilly or to provide a satisfactory answer that would allow him to win and for me to survive.

“Okay Billy, I’ll tell you what really bugs me. That damn country music you keep blasting all day long on the radio. There are other people that work here that might want a little variety in their musical selections.”

In those days the rules on TV viewing were much stricter than they are today. Back then the TV was only on after 5:00 PM and on weekends. So most firehouses had a centrally located radio that provided background noise during the day.

Billy-Bob being the old bull insisted that the radio be tuned to both kinds of music, country and western all day long. What I told Billy-Bob was a lie; in fact I had grown up on country music as my father had a country band, Clyde Casey and the Trail Riders performed all summer long at a tourist venue in the Garden of the Gods, and had cut a few albums as well.

I was a stagehand, worked the spot lights, and set up the mics for sound checks all summer long. I can’t say I was still a huge fan of country music but it sure wasn’t water boarding when it came to a form of torture. But it was a sufficient enough answer to give Billy a course of action to pursue.
“Is that so? The new kid doesn’t like my music. Well maybe I can help you learn to love the only true music for real Americans.”

And with that Billy-Bob made sure the radio was tuned at all times to the local country station. We did engage in a battle once or twice over the radio station for the next few weeks. As the new guy I pretty much had to do the dishes after every meal by myself, no dishwasher back then.

I held the position that if I was doing the dishes, I could at least be allowed to change the station while I was working and everybody else was having their afternoon naps.

So when the crew retired to the lounge for their siesta I would lower the volume on the radio and change the station. I got away with it once or twice but it would inevitably be discovered by Billy-Bob and with a lecture from Billy the station would be switched back to country.

This went on for months, and I have to say the false character defect I provided to Billy satisfied his desire to screw with me. Then one day he busted me singing along to a popular song.

“What are you doing there new guy?” he said.
“What?” I answered.
“You’re singing along. I thought you hated this stuff?”
He had me cornered for a second as I did like the song and knew all the lyrics.
“You know what it is Billy; you have made me listen to so much of this shit it’s rubbed off on me.” He grinned a huge grin.
“Well we’ll have to do something about that then won’t we?” He turned up the volume and walked out of the room.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Doggy.

“This is weird Tommy; the wound looks like it’s still fresh.”
Tommy joined me on the floor and gave it a look.
“You know what I think? I think the dog’s been licking this thing the whole time, you know trying to take care of his master.”
Made sense, I could just see the dog staying by his friend’s side and taking care of him.
“Makes sense to me Tommy. Look around the house and see if we can figure out what happened.”
I did a normal exam from head to toe. His only injury appeared to be the head wound. We needed to protect his spine as an injury like this to the head had a good chance of doing damage to his spine as well. Then my radio squawked and it was Captain Weird.
“TimO we will have the dog under control in a couple of minutes. What do you need?” he asked.
“Hey Cap, I’ll need a full spinal on this guy so can you have the medic from the ambulance bring in everything?”
Tommy returned from his search.
“Looks like he fell in the bathroom and smashed his skull on the toilet. There’s a big pool of dried blood in there and hand prints and dog tracks. Also looks like he vomited and from the smell of it and all the empty liquor bottles, I’d say he was pretty drunk whenever this happened.”

The crew from the ambulance rolled in with the gurney and the spinal gear.
“What do you need TimO?” asked Casey. Casey was one of the most seasoned paramedics in the game and I always felt a sense of relief whenever he showed up.
“We need to spinal this guy, take a look at this head wound before I cover it up.”

Casey knelt down and pulled the skin flap that was his forehead down to see the skull. He pressed lightly on the skull.
“No crepitus that I can feel or real deformity.”
“Yeah I didn’t find any and he’s moving air through his nose pretty well. He’s got some battle sign on his ears though.”
“Little basal skull fracture ya think?”
“Could be.”
Casey eyed the blood line around all the walls.
“What do think that’s all about?”
“I’m thinking he went to puke, fell and whacked his head on the toilet and now he’s been crawling around here on his hands and knees dragging his head down all the walls.” I said.
“So he’s got a closed head injury and keeps coming to and passing back out.”
“And the dog, did you see that dog?”
“Yeah they have him in the dog catcher’s truck.” Casey nodded his head in the direction of the front yard.
“I think the dog’s been following his drunk ass around here and keeps licking the wound when he passes out, keeping it clean.”

“Cool, it’ll make it easier for the doc to stitch him up.” Casey said.

We got the guy all packaged up and loaded on the gurney for transport to the hospital.
At the hospital Casey and I were doing our reports and having snacks, all good hospitals keep a fine selection of snacks on hand for the medics and EMTs that do the transporting.

You see if there is no specific reason for a patient to go to one hospital over another, then the decision of where a person goes for treatment is in the hands of the ambulance crew.

If a hospital wants more patients they can influence our choice of destination by the kinds of treats they make available to us poor underpaid, over worked and hungry medics. We go where the food is best if we have a choice.
The ED doc came in to talk to us.
“How long did you say this guy had been down?” The Doc asked.
“I’m not sure doc, but it sounds like, by the reports of friends that he could have been there maybe three days or more.” I said between bites of fresh chocolate chip cookies.
“Well he’s one lucky dude, he’s got a basal skull fracture and a subdural, he’s going up to the OR now, nice work guys.”
“Thanks for the follow up Doc.”
Days later Casey and I were back at the same hospital with another patient and a sweet tooth.
“Let’s go see if we can find the head injury dude.” I said.
“Let’s go.” Casey and I grabbed some more snacks and found our way to the guy’s room. He was awake when we found him.
“Hey we are the medics that found you and we just wanted to stop by and see how you’re doing.” I said as we walked in his room. His head was all wrapped up in bandages and there was a blood drain resting on his shoulder.
“Yeah come in guys. Man thank you so much for saving my life.”
“To tell you the truth we didn’t do much, I’d give the credit to your dog. That dog kept your wound clean, and protected your butt. We had a hell of time getting to you with him on duty.”
“Yeah Maxi is a good dog. He didn’t bite anyone did he?”
“No he didn’t bite us, not for lack of trying though.”
“That’s good, my ex is taking care of him while I recover. I just hope I get him back.” He said.
“Oh you’ll get him back there aren’t any complaints on him by us, he was just being a good dog, no worries.” I said.
“It’s not you guys I’m worried about, it’s her, she says she’s gonna take me back to court to get the dog. She says the dog is at risk because of my drinking.”
We didn’t really know what to say at that point.
“Well I don’t know what happened and I don’t really want to know. But your drinking got you in here, almost killed you. If you ever want to talk about that, I know something about that.” I took out one of my cards and gave it to him.
“Give me a call if you want, I’m a good listener.”
Casey patted me on the back as we left, he knew.
See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Firefighters have to be creative on many calls

The guy must have been down for days, the report from dispatch asked us to check the welfare and that the reporting party hadn’t been able to get a hold of the patient for the past four days, and it looked like it had been a few days for sure.

There was a line of blood down every wall at almost the exact same height, around 2 to 2 ½ feet. I figured this was the height of the patient’s head when he was on his hands and knees.

The blood was in various stages of drying out. Some was fresh still bright red; other spots were deep, deep red almost black now and tarring in appearance.

The air was heavy with the smell of it. Blood and old blood especially has a distinct aroma and the closer I pushed my face against the window the more aware of the smell I became.

Then once again I jumped backward as the huge dog inside lunged at the window and my face. I swear that dog was going to break the glass at some point and then we’d have a couple of dog bites to go with our head injury.

There were two startle factors with the dog. First, just the sheer size, speed, and aggression of the animal made me freak a little, and second the fact that his face, mouth and head were covered in matted dried blood gave the whole thing a distinct Cujo feel.

Captain Weird (we called him Weird for many reasons and it would take an entire post to explain his nickname, so just believe his name was well suited to him) stood on the front porch with two cops discussing our options.

We could see the occupant lying on the living room floor. He was breathing but didn’t respond to our banging and noise making. The dog would make a run at one of us and then return to guard his owner, so that was a problem.

We didn’t want to shot the dog and we didn’t want to get bitten by him either and we still hadn’t gained access to the house. A crowd of neighbors was forming in the front yard and in the bordering yards.

The presence of a BRT, cop cars, and a bunch of uniforms was a powerful draw on an otherwise lazy Saturday morning. A mild mannered and very concerned older lady approached me.
“Is he drunk again?” she asked.
“I have no idea. Is that something he does on a regular basis, get drunk?”
“Unfortunately yes, poor dear he’s been on and off the sauce now for a few months.” She shook her head in sorrow.
“Do you know him well? Does he have any other problems? Like diabetes or seizures or a heart condition? Anything like that you can think of?
“Not that I know of, his heart condition is a broken heart. His wife was… with one of his friends and he found out when she had their little boy tell him they were getting divorced. He’s been drunk ever since.”
“Do you know where she is? We need to get in there to help him.”
“Oh I have a key, I’ll be right back.” And she hurried away.
“Hey Cap, neighbor has a key, she’s getting it right now.”

Now we had to decide who would be the dog bait. The plan was to get the dog to go after one of us and then lock it up in another room.
I being the paramedic needed to get to the patient, Tommy being a totally brave firefighter said he’d be the bait. So we opened the front door for me, and then Tommy went around to the back door.

Tommy would open the backdoor and make enough noise to draw the dog away. I would slip in the front door and then quickly isolate the dog in the kitchen while Tommy backed out.

Using our radios Tommy gave a countdown. The dog was pacing in a circle around his downed owner.
“Three, two, one!”

Tommy banged the backdoor open loudly and the dog was immediately on the move. I remember its paws digging in and slipping on the wood floor. Silently I pushed the door open and trailed the huge beast toward the back.

The dog rounded the turn into the kitchen and now lost traction on the tile floor there. He slid sideways into the refrigerator and with his size and speed he knocked some kiddie artwork lose.

Tommy held his ground as the dog ricocheted off every surface in the kitchen. I closed the gap and pulled the kitchen door shut. I heard the backdoor slam as well and leaned against the door shaking.

The smell was really powerful inside the house, the irony and slightly acrid odor of dried blood was pungent but not repulsive in the way decomposition is.

I hurried over to the downed man and rolled him from his stomach on to his back. His eyes were covered over by a large flap of skin. At his hairline the skin of his face was peeled lose and hung down over his eyes, his skull was plainly visible.

The wound, although a few days old by all accounts, was fresh and clean and still leaking a steady flow of bright blood, not at all what I expected.
I was startled now by Tommy rushing in the front door and slamming it shut behind him. He was breathing hard and his eyes were wide and panicked.
“What the hell Tommy?”
My breathing accelerated now to match his.
“Doggy door. I didn’t think about the doggy door.”

Then a loud bang coincided with the bowing of the door and a steady stream of vicious barking. I also heard screams coming from outside.

“He jumped at the door and then he must have remembered the doggy door too. Next thing I know I see this giant head stick out the flap on the door and I just ran. Figured I’d be safe in here and you could probably use the help. Right?”
Here we are at the dreaded 1000 words. I’ll wrap it up tomorrow

Monday, April 2, 2012

Don't trust half naked women.

We lined up like a SWAT team at the door; I was first in line and held a CO2 extinguisher like a gun. I thought if nothing else I could discharge the extinguisher and make a smoke screen effect to blind her.

Behind me was Tommy, and like me he had put on all his firefighting gear. We had on our big coats, gloves and helmets just in case she actually got a swing of the knife in, we might be protected a little. At the back of the stack was Pizza, and in hindsight that didn’t seem like the right place for the guy with the gun and training for this kind of thing.

Rock Chuck and Denny stayed outside and peered through different windows trying to track Flo’s movements and then radio her whereabouts to us.
“She’s gone down a back hallway and it looks like she’s gone into a bedroom back there.” Radioed Rock Chuck.

Being as I had somehow ended up in the lead of our little raiding party I motioned for Tommy and Pizza to follow me. We crept into the kitchen crouching low for some reason. I think I was crouching in case the guy behind me with the gun accidentally pulled one off.

Through the kitchen we went left into the living. I saw the hallway and knew where her bedroom was as we had been to her house many times.
“Do you guys see her?” I asked in my radio.
“Yeah, she’s in her bedroom and she’s standing on her bed.” Said Denny over the radio.
I waved Tommy and Pizza forward with me as I inched down the hallway to her bedroom door.
“Flo, it’s TimO, we’re here to help you honey. Come out of there and talk to me Flo.” I didn’t want to get trapped in her tiny bedroom with her, the knife and two other guys.

“No.” She yelled.
“Come get me.”
“What is she doing Denny?” I asked into my radio.
“She’s just jumping up and down on the bed like a kid.” He said.
“Does she still have the knife Denny?”
“I can’t tell TimO, the windows are filthy.”
“Denny can you get her attention? Pound on the window or something, act like you’re trying to get in, maybe that will distract her.” I said.
“What if she tries to stab me?” Denny asked.
“Denny just try to distract her.”
I could hear Denny pound on the glass and his muffled calls to Flo.
“Let’s go guys.” I said and moved quickly to the door way of Flo’s bedroom. There she was bouncing up and down on the bed. She had removed her bra I guess in a further effort to distract us.
Flo might have been crazy, but her distraction was without success. As we moved into the room I noticed she had one arm behind her back. The rhythmic bouncing and the associated movement of her attributes froze my fellow rescuers just for a second.

I had the long plastic bell of the fire extinguisher held out in front of me and pointed directly at Flo’s face. She smiled at me and then as she whipped the hidden arm from behind her back I saw the knife.

Thank God she wasn’t faster; I pulled the handle on the extinguisher and released a huge cloud of freezing carbon dioxide right into her face. She just locked up and went stiff. The knife halted in mid swing and she held it right in front of me.

I moved the bell of the extinguisher and aimed it right at her clinched fist and pulled the handle again. Frost formed on her hand just like it had on her face and hair. She looked like something out of a sci-fi move, an ice queen or something.

Now her eyes just blinked in a child like way. She dropped the knife but remained standing like an ice sculpture. Pizza moved forward quickly now and yanked her down on the bed and cuffed her. He was a little aggressive with her.

“Hey Pizza take it easy.” I said.
“Easy? Crazy bitch could have stabbed us,”
“I don’t think the knife was long enough to get through three of us Pizza.” Said Tommy.
“Yeah whatever, she’s all yours.” Said Pizza as he stood up and left the room. I grabbed a nearby bathrobe and covered Flo up.
“Flo, what’s going on? You know you shouldn’t be drinking, it gets you in trouble every time.” I said as wrapped her up.

She began to sob and cry and leaned into me. Flo had been involved in a terrible divorce for some time now. Her husband having grown tired of her mental illness had thrown in the towel on the marriage and the divorce as all divorces do had become quite vicious.

I think he was trying to win in the divorce by pushing Flo closer to a tragic end, sad situation and poor Flo was powerless to fight back in any intelligent or educated way. He knew how to push her buttons and get her to react in a way that would always end poorly for Flo.

An ambulance had arrived while we were inside and I explained to Flo, just like I had many times before that she was going to go to the hospital for an evaluation and then probably off to a psych ward for a few days. I made Pizza take the cuffs off her and lucky for Flo, the medic on the ambulance was a familiarly with Flo as I was.

We saw Flo a few more times over the next year when a bout would erupt. We saw her one last time when she was finally successful at a suicide. Sometimes we just couldn’t enough. I hope she is at peace now.