A friend of mine who had recently lost a loved one, asked me this morning how I am able to deal with the death and mayhem that I often see as I go about doing my job as a firefighter. The simple answer would be: there are days that I do, and there are days that I don't.
On the days where death catches those in the bloom of their youth, or even in their not-so-youth, I walk back the the truck a little rattled and shaky and it may take a few hours or a few weeks where the images no longer flash in my mind. The drive back to station is unusually quiet. We know we're in bad shape if no words are exchanged back at the hall and we find a separate part of the station to get away from each other to do our own thing. A pot of coffee might be brewed... but no one will drink it. When it gets like that, hopefully the Captain or the District Chief in charge is aware enough to call in a critical incident stress counsellor to help us get through whatever haunts us. Thankfully, these calls are few and far between and we usually get back to work full of dark humour... which to the outsider appears callous and crass but anyone who is involved in high stress emergency work knows that gallows humour is actually a good sign of healing. It's when you sit quietly that you know you're in trouble.
It is hard to see someone die before you. But my job puts me in a position where it is often unavoidable. In the instances where I cannot save that person's life, it becomes my job make them feel comfortable and safe. And to let them know that their life is valued. Words may not be exchanged, but this message can be conveyed when I look into their eyes and hold their hand and just sit beside them until their next of kin can arrive. I don't do it because I have to... but rather because I want to, because it's what I would want someone to do for me. And if they are about to die alone, it is my privilege and my honour to be there for them to make their last moments as peaceful as possible. Death can be difficult and scary. But it doesn't have to be. It can be a moment of gratitude and grace and dignity. And a moment of peace and love.
You see, firefighting is more than just fighting fires. It is more than just a blue collar job. It is a job that cuts to the core of humanity. It has tested my will and resolve countless times but that's what makes me want to keep going into work... to continue to grow into the profession that I am passionate about because of the people who let me into their world in as much time as the Big Guy upstairs will allow. xo