You have to wonder what drives these people. When there is danger, the “smart” thing to do is run away. They don’t. They run to the danger and only leave after everyone else is safe. They know full well that their jobs are dangerous, like so many jobs of service: Not only fire, rescue and EMS, but also the police, the military, the specialty structural or cave teams, and others.
So today, I’m turning these Dispatches over to a guest blogger who has written about those jobs. An anonymous blogger. Some of what s/he says is from personal experience, and other accounts are from his/her friends. But all of these things really happened.
“Why do we do it?
“That’s so hard to say. Maybe I can tell you about some calls and you can find meaning from them.
“A fire in the night. Damn cold. The radios wake firefighters up at home. They drive fast to the firehouses to get into bunker gear and drive the engines to the fire.
“When they pull up, someone says, “I think everybody is out.” Well, then they think they have to go inside and check. From the cold, it is into the heat. 200 degrees near the floor, where they crawl. More like 800 degrees near the ceiling.
“The heavy smoke means nobody can see past their hands. It also means that there are unburned hydrocarbons in the air which may erupt in a “flashover.”
“All’s clear. This time.
“It’s still cold. Neighbors soon see a sight. Several firefighters are carrying long lengths of hose which are stiff and frozen. They will have to thaw it, dry it, and repack the engines. Then they can go home.
“Here’s a simple one. The EMT’s are called to take the ambulance to an “unknown problem.” As they pull up to the scene, the dispatcher gives them more information. “Wait for the police, this is a shooting.”
“Yeah, they already knew that. They just got out of the bus and saw the guy with the gun.
“Some trucker rolled his truck on a back road. Not a pickup, a semi with a trailer. The trailer is full of canned stuff. It’s heavy. The truck is leaning on a couple of locust trees, and they're all that’s holding it up. There’s a tow truck hooked on from above, but if the truck rolls, that tow truck will flop like a fish at the end of a line. The truck driver is pinned solid in the wreckage, and he can’t wait for the hour it would take to crib up the truck on a muddy hill.
“Two guys at a time can get in the cab to work. One of them remarks, “You know, if this SOB rolls, we’re dead.” The other replies, “Well, I might get out, but you’re toast.” “Yup.” They continue to work. The driver lives. The rescuers go home, this time.
“It’s not some sort of “aren’t I good and brave” that’s going on in their minds. There is danger to someone.
"We have to go. We cannot walk the other way. We don’t know why. Except that’s what we do.”
OK, back to Roger. Do you see the problem? Those who live this life cannot articulate the feelings. They just don’t come out.
There is no one who can summarize the reasons that the Caregivers Serve. The best effort so far may be from the Last Homily of Father Mychal Judge, given at Engine 73/Ladder 42 House in the Bronx on 10 September 2001. Father Mike was the Chaplain of the FDNY:
. . .
We come to this house this morning to celebrate renewal, rejuvenation, new life. We come to thank God for the blessings over all the years - the good work that's been done here and especially the last few days. We can never thank God enough for the reality of the lives we have. So, standing in His presence this morning, and truly this is a chapel, let us pause for a moment, perhaps close our eyes, and thank God for some special blessings in our individual lives.
. . .
That's the way it is. Good days. And bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job - which is a mystery. And a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig. No matter how big the call. No matter how small. You have no idea what God is calling you But he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.
. . .
What great people. We love the job. We all do. What a blessing that is. A difficult, difficult job and God calls you to it. And then He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done. Isn't He a wonderful God? Isn't He good to you? To each one of you? And to me! Turn to Him each day. Put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life in His hands, and He'll take care of you and you'll have a good life.
The next morning, Fr. Mike responded to the World Trade Center. The emergency operations office for the City of New York was located in the towers. Mayor Giuliani asked Fr. Mike to accompany the Mayor and other city officials to another command center several blocks away. Fr. Mike refused, saying, “I have to stay with my men.”
Less than 30 minutes later, he was giving Last Rites to one of the first firefighters killed when the first tower collapsed. Fr. Mike died with and for his men.
Honestly, I don’t intend or expect that many people will understand fully what drives the Responders and the Caregivers. And that’s OK. We understand. And we believe that God understands, too.
Tonight, I think of Mike Garrett. And others I have known who died in the line of duty: Carlos Dillon, Bill Stone, Tom Kickler, Diane Efaw, Eddie Alban, Danny Fernandez, Jim Atkins, Jimmy Yvorra.
Rest easy, departed brothers and sisters. We’ve got it from here.