This started as a Facebook post last week, I expanded it and it’s in the Providence Journal today.
She was the coolest girl I knew. She grew up in the projects, raised a son, knew everybody, scared me a little and made me laugh. We worked on different trucks but the same shift, for the most part.
The only times we actually worked together were when we both were on overtime; sleep-deprived, hungry, dirty and exhausted. And we worked great together. It mattered not that after a long shift with our regular partners we were stuck together for 10 or 14 more hours. We always made the best of things. Nobody had to know that we swore so much between calls that the walls of the ambulance bled.
The kids in Providence’s toughest neighborhoods lit up like fireworks on the 4th of July when we arrived on scene. Me, a big white guy from suburbia, faded into the background. Stephany Blackwell, somebody from their world, somebody who walked like them, talked like them, looked like them and had enough swagger for both of us, would arrive on scene and take care of business.
The little girls from the neighborhoods were the most impressed. Brie Larson, Carol Danvers or Captain Marvel couldn’t hold a candle to the superhero in their midst when Blackwell arrived on scene with lights and sirens blaring, moved like a cat through whatever mayhem awaited us, fixed what was wrong, stopped the bleeding, carried the wounded, and disappeared as quickly as we came.
I loved working with her. I didn’t know what she thought of me. She didn’t say much about that stuff. The bond between firefighters is legendary. The Brotherhood is celebrated in every firehouse in every city and every town everywhere a fire department exists. But what is not as well known is the bond that exists between two medics cooped up in an old Ford 450 outfitted with emergency gear responding to dozens of other people’s emergencies every shift.
Sometimes there is something there that makes the Brotherhood seem like a casual acquaintance.
I haven’t seen many people I used to work with since leaving the job. Even though I looked forward to a retirement dinner being held last week at the Firefighter’s Hall, I was a little anxious.
I opened the door to the club, not knowing quite what to expect. There she was, with the most genuine smile I’ve seen in a while on her face as she jumped from her seat and gave me one of the best hugs I’ve felt in a long, long time.
Some things you just can’t fake. You just feel it, and it feels great.
Any worries I had evaporated the second I walked in the door. I felt like one of those neighborhood kids who are understood, appreciated and missed.
I’ve been gone for awhile, and a new generation has taken over. Blackwell is a lieutenant now, still running 911 calls in the city she grew up in, still putting people back together, still creating magic every time she arrives on scene and some little kid sees a powerful woman in charge, doing one of the more difficult jobs imaginable, and doing it with style.
Thank you, Stephany. You made this old guy feel great.