I wrote this for Fire Engineering’s Fire Life Column, thanks for reading!
â€œRescue 1 and Engine 13, respond to 8276 Roosevelt Street for a possible DOA.â€
The definite “dead on arrival” was considering the repercussions of not dragging his old, grungy, completely unmotivated self out of the bunk and responding to the call. This was the 13th emergency medical services run in 33 hours. The lights had just gone out from the last one, and I gave an unanswered prayer to the Rescue Gods for the last hour of the shift to pass silently. I opened my eyes, fumbled for the mic that was still clasped to my wrinkled uniform shirt, pressed the magic button, and spoke.
â€œRescue 1 Responding.â€
A little white lie; responding from a horizontal position didnâ€™t mean I hadnâ€™t begun the response sequence in my mind, after all.
The taillights of Engine 13 disappeared as it made the first turn, some Â¾ of a mile from quarters. My vehicle was a little behind, but the engine company crew hadnâ€™t turned a wheel since 11, so bully for them. My partner was nearly as inconsolable as me, and we responded in silence to meet whatever waited. Hoping for a dead body rather than a person clinging to life is an awful thought, and rationalizing those things by reminding ourselves that we are not really monsters. â€œJust a little tiredâ€ is no consolation.
â€œI hope whoever it is, is dead,â€ I said.
â€œMe too,â€ my partner replied.
We stewed in that as we responded. Light had returned to the world during our reprieve; it had been pitch black half an hour ago. Normally, I love dawnâ€”the rebirth of life as the nocturnal world recedes is invigorating, unless, of course, you happen to have been wide awake during those nocturnal hours. Then, the new day brings with it a depression like most will never know.
â€œEngine 13 to Fire Alarm, Code 99.â€
â€œRescue 1, Received.â€
The truck picked up speed. The medics rejoined the living. The hopes for a dead body retreated into the war chest in our heads and we focused on the job at hand: CPR, IVs, defibrillation, intubation, and hope.
â€œRescue 1 on scene.â€
â€œRoger, Rescue 1, at 0538 hrs.â€
It was an elderly gentleman who fell in his bathroom and didnâ€™t get up. We did our thing, removed him from his home, filled his veins with epinephrine and atropine, pumped his heart for him, pushed air into his lungs, tried and failed to revive him.
The ambulance was a disaster when the job was through. I helped my partner clean it up, did the paperwork, and avoided the manâ€™s widow, unable to produce the needed words to make her feel better.
The ride back to quarters was interrupted by the sun breaking the horizon. Sure, it cracked through as we were passing the industrial Port of Providence and dozens of giant fuel tanks, chain link fences, gravel, and gasoline and oil tanker trucks lining up to get their share, but sunrise is a sunrise, and not everybody gets to witness the glorious start of a new day.
It is amazing how the simplest things bring a person back from the dead and put things in perspective. A long, difficult shift that seemed endless just an hour ago becomes just a memory, and a new day awaits. It is up to us to move forward, grasp each and every moment of our lives, and to appreciate the sunrise, for none of us knows what the future has in store.
Iâ€™m glad I was able to witness the start of the new day because I missed the rest of it, at home, blankets over my head, blinds drawn and the soothing sound of life moving on just outside my window. I may have thought of the man whose life ended at the end of my shift, but my subconscious had taken over, and I will probably never know what dreams floated through.