During my time as a Rescue Officer in Providence I worked with female partners, Hispanic partners, a Jewish Partner, a black partner, an Irish partner, and an Asian partner. Each and every one of them did the job and did it well. Some had strengths in one place; others were strong in other places. We fed off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we used those weaknesses against each other; driving each other nuts was business as usual. Nothing is perfect, and a partnership is much like being married with one very big difference; at the end of the shift we could separate, only to do it all over the next time.
Working with people of a different race, with different backgrounds and experiences taught me a lot.
- I do not know everything
- We are definitely different, no doubt about it
- We look different, act different and respond different
- We’re really not that different at all
- When we need each other, our partners come through
It is our differences that make things interesting. The world is full of interesting people, and the more of them you meet, the more you realize just how different we are. Funny thing is, when people are placed together in an environment where cooperation is essential, race, sex, religion and color has nothing to do with it. I found I have more in common with my partners than I do with most of my family. We are drawn to a vocation, and in that vocation we find ourselves. It is in Rescue 1 that I have found my place, even if it looks like a United Nations convention most days.
When put into difficult situations human beings will seek other humans. We thrive in groups. It is our ability to cooperate with each other that makes us the dominant species here on earth. Finding the right people to cooperate with is essential to our well-being and effectiveness. This is especially true when working in an intense environment. I have worked with a lot of partners during my 25 years as a firefighter/EMT. Not all of those relationships worked as well as others. Personalities clash, the way we do things differ and just the way we are is not always conducive to a harmonious working environment. Harmonious or not, we always sorted things out and worked together when things got ugly.
We have each other’s backs. If somebody attacks one of us, they attack us both. I have been on the receiving end of more attacks from our patients than I choose to remember. A big white guy stands out in the inner city. I didn’t take the insults personally, and neither did my partners, but it did get old, and fast. One guy that I worked with for years has roots in Ecuador and speaks fluent Spanish. His parents are first generation citizens in good standing who raised one of the best firefighters I ever had the pleasure of working with. He looks as white, well, maybe not that white, as me. People had no idea where he came from when they got in the back of our rescue and started complaining about the dirty, lazy illegal’s that are ruining their neighborhood, their city and their country. Mind you, a lot of these people were healthily disabled, in their early adulthood and sucking every nickel out of our system they could when they conspiratorially confided in us “white” boys. Renato handled the situations with class, and I always wondered how he managed it. “You manage,” he would say. I suppose he grew up in a different world than me, where a person gets used to being treated differently.
I’ve had female partners and watched them take their share of abuse simply because they are women. Black partners are insulted because they are black. It really is unbelievable what goes on out of the glare of television and the media.
My last partner is a Chinese American. His dad was a cop in Providence, did twenty-four years before retiring honorably. His mom is a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital. They own a nice home, take care of their kids and grandchildren and live their lives. Of course, just about once a week somebody calls my friend a “Walking Wonton,” or “Chopstick,” or whatever else they think of.
Somehow, through it all those of us who work together manage to overcome the negativity. We’re all the same but different, and treat each other as equals, and when you insult one of us, you are insulting us both. I consider myself fortunate to be exposed to so many different cultures, and the way people react to people different than themselves. I have been witness to the ugly side of race relations, but more importantly, I have seen far more often how race doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. It’s the human race that matters, and it is the human race that I work with.