For the last few months, I have spent a bit of time planning a reunion for the members, past and present, of the Marion County Rescue Squad. This is the ambulance and rescue company which serves Marion County, West Virginia, and a population of about 60,000.
We celebrated the 40th Reunion Saturday night. 160 of my very closest friends were there.
MCRS was founded in 1972. That story will be told at a different time and in a different forum. Since 1972, MCRS rigs have responded to 150,000 emergency calls. For the first 15 years, it was staffed 100%, 24/7 by volunteers. Until a year ago, MCRS remained a mixed company, both career and volunteer staff. Now, it has become a career department with 70 full and part-time members.
I doubt if I have the skill adequately to explain the commitment in the Fellowship which exists in all of the emergency services. When you work with people in times of stress and in dangerous environments, they are your brothers and your sisters. That is neither exaggeration nor oversimplification.
A part of our reunions is and has been remembering those of the Fellowship who have answered the Last Alarm.
That is a time of remembrance and reflection. It is a time of sadness. Most of all, to me, it is a time of reassurance and hope.
Within every beginning lives the ending. Everyone there had the experience of answering a first alarm. I doubt if anyone ever forgets pulling out of the station on their first emergency call. When they did so, they dedicated a part of their lives and in many instances the whole of their lives to service. And when one answers that first alarm in the service of others, necessarily one eventually will answer the Last Alarm.
Draw what conclusion you will from the service of the Last Alarm.
Presiding always is the member with greatest seniority, active or retired. In our case, we had two members far ahead of everyone else in seniority, Bill Stanley (39 years) and Paul Phillips (37 years).
Right, 39 years and 37 years doing volunteer work the United States Department of Labor classifies as skilled and very heavy.
Also by tradition, the roll was read by the member present with the least seniority. This is not to pass off some onerous task, but carries with it important symbolism. This Fellowship is One. No one is more of a brother and sister than another.
And as the roll was read, since those who have answered that Last Alarm are not present, the brothers and sisters who knew them, who worked with them and who loved them may answer for them.
Make of it what you will.
These people rode anonymously. When the public needed them, it was in time of great need and great stress. Civilians didn’t see them as Joe or Mary or Bob or Heather, they saw flashing lights and uniforms and bags and boxes of equipment and professionals quickly doing unfamiliar things.
Usually, the EMTs and medics, the firefighters/first responders, the police who came because they happened to be in the neighborhood are all wearing some sort of nametags, but nobody ever looked at those. They were just “the medics,” or “the firemen,” or “the police officers.” After they delivered the patient to the hospital, they didn’t hang around. They grabbed new supplies to replace what they had used so that they could hurry out and notify the dispatcher that they were available for another call.
You never got to know them.
But they knew you.
They knew the 60-year-old couple in the suburbs where mom called at 3 AM because dad was feeling bad and suddenly couldn’t move one side and could not speak. They knew the sudden terror which struck that house. They knew the bleary-eyed children or grandchildren who stumbled in because they heard the commotion. They knew the occasional well-meaning neighbor who came over to offer sincere but really dumb advice. And they knew that they have no time for explanations, they had to get on the road now.
They knew the driver who never saw the other driver coming, and who passed from tooling along to waking up under a collapsed steering column. They knew how loud the rescue tools are which dismantle the car around the patient, and that’s why they crawled inside with her and covered her with their own coat and offered reassurance and sometimes even little jokes.
They knew the parents of the sudden infant death syndrome baby.
They knew knew the family of the cancer patient who had just breathed her last and who could not face it alone - so the family called the ambulance.
They sang to little children on the long transports to children’s hospitals or burn centers. They talked to older patients about their families and their work even when both patient and medic knew that the end was very near.
And they knew more than most that they would be answering their Last Alarm in the Fullness of Time. They even looked forward to their opportunity to serve the Lord.
These were my brothers and sisters. These are my brothers and sisters.
If they can say, “He was one of us,” I will ask for no other epitaph.