How Could This Happen

On the last post I talked about the unbelievable rush that had come over me from my presentation in Lancaster. Then reality came crashing with full force and I was not prepared for this. This may be the worst post for me that I have ever written.

The Friday after I returned from Lancaster I had a total brain meltdown. Nothing that was running through my mind made any sense and I could not figure out why. It all started because I thought about my lost Gulf War boonie hat that I have had for 24 years. I have kept that hat close to my heart and have an invisible bond with it. That may seem ridiculous, but it is my reality. I have torn my house and garage apart multiple time in an effort to find that damn hat. I want to be buried with that hat and it is now missing. I cant deal with that in any reasonable way.  That is just the beginning. My mind was on overdrive, there was nothing short of smashing into a brick wall that would slow it down. I could not sleep, I could not focus or concentrate on anything and I would just drift off into an unexplained place that I had to call home for that day and the next. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did and did in a very harsh way.

On Sunday morning at 3:00 a.m. my fire dept. was dispatched to a structure fire. This is nothing out of the normal. We attacked like any other fire that that we have faced and 8 hours later we had it wrapped up and was beginning to break down equipment.

I know full well that I have signed up to this job that can be devastating at times. In the emergency services we see things not fit for human eyes so others don’t have to. This is our job and I do not regret one day of my 19 years as a firefighter. I have had a very rewarding career with its ups and downs but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

We were pulling all of our tools and hose and ladders from the structure. My best friend of 15 years was handing me the nozzle end of hoseline that as still full of water. He slowly lowered it to me like we have done 100’s of times before. As soon as I put my hands on that hose with my arms stretched out the hose kinked. It kinked right over his hand trapping his hand inside the kink. The hose started to bow out towards the edge of the roof and he could not shake his hand free. My best friend was coming off that roof in front of my very eyes. I heard him yell “no” then watched as he fluttered his arms trying to stay in an upright position. I remember vividly the look on his face as he fell towards the ground. The man on this Earth that I would take a bullet for came down for what seemed like minutes. I was 5 feet from him as he hit the ground on the concrete with more force than I have ever seen a human hit. He landed on his feet, his head hit the concrete and his side hit a stair rail so hard that I thought it was going to bend him in half. For the very first time in my 19 years as a firefighter I froze. I was 5 feet away and took me at least 5 seconds to come to his side. Fortunately another firefighter moved very quickly and kept his head from hitting the concrete  for a second time. His helmet was still on his head  for the first hit, it came loose on impact and fell off his head before the second hit. Another firefighter was able to get his hand beneath his head before it hit the concrete. Here is my best friend laying crumpled on the concrete with the sounds of horrendous pain coming from his mouth. I could see just by the look on his face that this was not good. This is one of toughest bad ass firefighters that I have ever met and here he lays unable to get to his feet. The ambulance crew came and we began preparing him to load on to the ambulance. When he was nearly ready to be placed on the stretcher he said to me “Mike you need to call my wife.” All I could think at this time was that this fall was because of me. My hands touched that nozzle and the rest was a nightmare. I told him that I was going to go with him and stay with him until I was kicked out by ER staff. He lives close to where the fire was and I went to his house to pick up his wife. I was scared to death to look her in the eye for fear that she would automatically think the worst. I guided her into my truck and we went to the ER. When we arrived we went directly to the ER room that he was in. I am very thankful that no one was trying to slow us down. That would not have been a good outcome for those who would have attempted that. There I am in the ER with my best friend still in incredible pain. Every time I looked at him I wanted to break down. I had to stay strong for him and his wife.

The staff was coming in and out of the room to do tests and give him pain meds and wheeling him off for tests. He was out of the room at one point and I looked at his bunker pants laying on the floor covered in black soot from the hard work that he had just done. I am thinking to myself that he may never be able to where that gear again and do the job that he loves. I picked up those pants and his boots and carried them out to my truck so I did not have to look at them any more. That was also my excuse to spend  a moment alone. I climbed into my truck and finally let out what I had been holding in since this nightmare started. I cried for my friend and his family and for me. I wanted my friend to be himself in the worst way. I would have gladly taken his place. I have already had my worst day and I could handle this if it was me instead of him. He is a tough guy and he proved it that day. He told me time and time again that it was not my fault. I only believed him partially. He must have seen the pain in my eyes. I never left his side for the time he was in that ER until he was released to go home.

I am feeling selfish because I did not know how I was gong to handle this and now my attention focused on me. I could not close my eyes all night or the next night because every time I did I saw him falling and saw that look in his eyes.  I heard the pain in his voice. He thought his ticket was punched as soon as he left that roof.

I slept for very short times because my mind would refuse to let me stay awake any longer.My  best friend  thought his ticket was punched as soon as he left that roof and I felt guilty about it. I told him when I left his house to call me if he needed anything. I knew in my heart that his pride would not allow him to that. I called him twice that night and first thing in the morning. He told me that he was doing fine and it was ok to stop worrying now. That gave me the relief that I needed just to survive. This story ends well.  His injuries were not critical and after some rehab and healing he will be rejoining the ranks of our dept. as one of the best and baddest fireman I know.



Go ahead and test me, I am ready

I have made it through the first test in my mind by being subjected to some medical calls similar to mine and now I am ready for the big test. I do not wish bad things on any person, however my job is usually about bad things happening to good people. It is not a fun thing to go to a house or a business knowing that the owner and family is watching their dreams literally going up in smoke. You hear that firemen love to go and fight fires. We do in fact love to do our job, but with that being said if we truly loved to fight fires, we would be loving to see utter chaos and destruction. What we love is being able to go and mitigate the problem and save as much as possible while doing so. I sometimes get borderline angry when I see all of the T-shirts and the bumper stickers bragging up “We fight what you fear.” We fear it too. The difference is that we are trained on how to interfere and make it go away. We are given the proper equipment and technology to enable us to cause that interference. A fireman without his equipment and training is nothing more than the civilian standing on the street watching it burn while we work. Any fireman that says he is not afraid of going into a burning building in some way, is in the wrong line of work and is asking for trouble. Anyways back to the topic. My rant is done.

I needed to have that test for me to see if I was ready. The Dr’s. said that I was and I believe them completely. I just needed to know how was my body going to react. Was the vertigo going to come to me while crawling through a smokey room looking up to the ceilings? I didn’t know because I haven’t done it yet since the injury.

I think even more importantly I needed to prove to my co workers that I was back and, I was back better than ever. I was working out as much as possible while I was off in my home to make sure I stayed as fit as I could. During those two weeks that is spent on my back I had lost about 12 pounds and a good portion of muscle mass. I have never considered myself to be “The Incredible Hulk” but I am not built like a stick figure either. I can still get in the push up position and whoop the young guys in push ups, and sit ups as well. I know that my co workers had to have questions whether or not I was still able to do this job the way I did before.

Those first couple of fires I went out of my way to be sure that if a task needed completed I would not just point to a couple of guys and tell them what was needed accomplished. If I was not the officer in charge, I would tell them what was needed grab the equipment and tell them to keep up. Of course they did. We have very good and well trained firemen. I climbed up a ladder to a roof one day and was using a pike pole to pull down some ceilings. I looked out the window while I was straddling the sill and there were 3 guys watching me do what I was doing. One half of me wondered if they were watching and trying to get the nerve to tell me to get down because I wasn’t supposed to be there, and the other half was wondering if they were watching just to make sure that I was ok. Either way I was going to accomplish the job. I was elevated yes, but i was in a seated position in a safe place doing my job. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

A few more tests that I would need to face would eventually come my way, but one of the big ones was gone and successful. I know that it was partially a sense of pride for me knowing I could do it and proving to the others that I could do it.

My physical abilities have been proven to the crew. My mental status would be tested next. In a good way I guess. I was no longer the tight lipped guy who would let the little things slide by without saying too much. THAT ME WAS GONE. My Fall To Life was taking another turn for the better in as far as my eyes could see.