A Firefighter's Story: "I Wish You Could!"

I wish you could see the sadness of a businessman as his livelihood goes up in flames or a family returning home, only to find their house and belongings damaged or destroyed.

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

I wish you could comprehend a wives horror at 3 am as I check her husband of forty years for a pulse and find none. I start CPR anyway hoping against hope to bring him back, knowing intuitively it is too late. But wanting his wife and family to know everything possible was done.

I wish you could know the unique smell of burning insulation, the taste of soot-filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of crackling flames and the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke.

I wish you could read my mind as I respond to a building fire, Is this a false alarm or a working “breathing” fire? How is the building constructed? What hazards await me? Is anyone trapped?

I wish you could be there when the EMS squad pronounces dead the beautiful little five-year-old girl who did not make it out of the fire. She will never be able to say “I love you Mommy” again.

I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine, the driver with his foot pressed down hard on the gas pedal, my arm tugging again and again on the air horn as you fail to yield right of way at the intersection, however when you need us, your first comment on our arrival will be “It took you forever to get here!”

I wish you could read my thoughts as I help extricate a teenage girl from the mangled remains of her automobile. What if this was my sister, my girlfriend or a friend? What were her parent’s reactions when they opened their door only to a find a fire chaplain standing there with a helmet in hand?

I wish you could know how it feels to come home and greet my family, not having the heart to tell them that I nearly lost my life today.

I wish you could realize the physical, emotional and mental drain of missed meals, lost sleep and forgone social activities in addition to all of the tragedies my eyes have viewed.

I wish you could know the brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or preserving someone’s property, or being there in times of crisis, or creating order from total chaos.

I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy tug on your arm and ask “Is my mommy OK?” Not even being able to look in his eyes without tears falling from your own and not knowing what to say. Or to hold back a long-time friend who watches his buddy have CPR performed on him as they take him away in the ambulance, knowing that he was not wearing his seatbelt.

Until you have lived this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, what we are, or what our job really means to us.  We are firefighters.

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