Only if you could know . . . I wish you could

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I was talking to a firefighter friend of mine the other day, and he told me about this story that happened to him. I was taken back by the person who said these things but not surprised at my friend’s response.

As we were sitting in front of the station relaxing after a call, a man drove by and started heckling us, saying, “Don’t you have a cat to save? And why are you sitting around wasting our money?”

We thought nothing of his remarks. Later on that night we got a call for a single family dwelling fully involved. As we got on scene we were informed there was a man trapped, so I ran in to save him. When I found him on the couch I took off my SCBA right away, and as I was putting it on

him I recognized him as the heckler.

I dragged him out of the house

and after the fire was extinguished, and I went to rehab. I thought nothing more of him. Three days later

he showed up at the station. He saw me immediately and came right to me. The first words out of his mouth were “Why did you save me? If I

were you I would have left me


Well that’s the difference between you and me. I don’t care who you are or what you did; my job is to save lives, and that’s what I do. 

A firefighter is not better than anyone else. They just have a unique career. We all love what we do. We don’t ask for much. We do our jobs because we really love our jobs. Who else can go to work and do what we do. I wrote down a few thoughts that go through most firefighters’ minds at some point while working.

I Wish You Could Know

I wish you could know what it is like to search a burning bedroom for trapped children at 3a.m., flames rolling above your head, your palms and knees burning as you crawl, the floor sagging under your weight as the kitchen below you burns.

I wish you could comprehend a wife’s horror at six 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 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 dense smoke-sensations that I’ve become too familiar with.

I wish you could read my mind 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 to 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 2×4 or a gun?”

I wish you could be in the emergency room as a doctor pronounces dead the beautiful 5-year old girl that I have been trying to save during the past 25 minutes, who will never go on her first date or say the words “I love you Mommy” again.

I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine, squad or my personal vehicle, the driver with his 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. When you need us; however, 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 girl of teenage years from the remains of her automobile. “What if this was my daughter, sister, my girlfriend or a friend? What were her parents reaction going to be when they opened the door to find a police officer with hat in hand?”

I wish you could know how it feels to walk in the back 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 feel the hurt as people verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse us or belittle

what I do, or as they express their attitudes 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 brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or preserving someone’s property, or being able to be there in time of crisis, or creating order from total chaos.

I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy tugging at your arm and asking, “Is Mommy OK?” Not even being able to look in his eyes without tears from your own and not knowing what to say. Or to have to hold back a long-time friend who watches his buddy having CPR done on him as they take him away in the Medic Unit. You know all along he did not have his seat belt on. A sensation that I have become too familiar with.

Unless you have lived with this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, we are, or what our job really means to us……

I wish you could though. 

Michael Heath is president of the St. John Professional Firefighters Association.