Burning Down The House: Fighting Fires And Losing Myself
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Eight years as volunteer firefighter can turn following a dream into a nightmare. Physical dangers and psychological costs all add up. The author tried to save strangers in fires, medical calls, and automobile accidents - CPR on a colleague’s father, and a fuel explosion.
counselling and care for its members. Each step into the fire service took me two steps farther away from everyone else’s world, farther into a place that few people besides emergency workers will truly comprehend. I took every step wide-eyed with wonder, as careful as I could be not to break any unwritten code; firefighters have their own superstitions and fears, and it’s easy, early on, to step into mistakes you know nothing about. I don’t know exactly when the nightmares started, I just know
difference between it and the wallpaper. I wanted to take photographs because it was all just so bizarre. Not for the newspaper, but for the fire department records, where you save up pictures of the weird or the unusual, like a boast book of the freakishly strange, proof that unlikely things really happen. But the homeowners weren’t interested. They’d rather the fire chief and I just hurried up and got out of their back room. Since there wasn’t a fire, once the road was completely clear of
followed the contour line of the hill and so did we, occasionally looking out into the valley over the edge. By then I had all the clips on my jacket undone and the Velcro strip pulled open, my portable radio clipped on my bunker jacket right at the neck. The other two firefighters were slightly ahead of me. Every now and then the pump operator would call us from below and tell us how close the forestry truck was, and how much smoke there was above us. “Darker now,” the small speaker would
necessary. Never recognized, not even when you yourself are the one in need. You’re there, but you’re fundamentally ignored. The couple in the blue house hadn’t reached that point, but it’s hard to escape the thought that maybe they would. It is a small thing at first, but it grows. Walking by the same blue house late at night, before the fire, it was obvious. Subtle and small—but as decisive as a circuit breaker throwing itself off in the box. Light, then dark. Done, then never, ever undone.
froth in his lungs. Patients with edema, the book says you keep them any way but flat. First, elevate the head of their bed, and if that doesn’t help, tilt them on their side. He was percolating like a coffee pot, bad enough that I could hear the wet snap of the bubbles popping at the back of his throat. They had drugs to dry him out, and suction too, and even though that was done before we came in, I knew it must have been particularly unpleasant. He was tipped up on his side in a big hospital