If yesterday’s note wasn’t sufficient to caution you to the emotional turmoil that comes with the job of a firefighter, let me be clear in helping you see that. Not to bring attention to myself or the battles I face, nor to glorify myself at all. Not for any other reason than out of a desire that you never have to say “why didn’t someone warn me?”
The job has its rewards, there’s no argument there. But…
One day you’ll wake up at 2am and find a teenager impaled on a guardrail, blood still dripping from his body after having been ejected from the vehicle…head crushed from going through the windshield…brain matter lying on the ground beneath him…while his “friend” sits on the curb laughing as if nothing happened because he’s too drunk to know he just killed his friend. Your frustration will seem more than you can bear. You’ll want to beat some sense into him, but you’ll bite your tongue and try to forget. You won’t be able to.
One morning while your breakfast sits on the table waiting for your return, you’ll hold the hand of a woman whose husband lies dead on her living room floor…your hand still sweating after having spent the last hour pumping on his chest…the feeling of his ribs crushing under the weight of your thrusts still fresh on your mind. You won’t have the stomach to finish breakfast when you get back.
One night you’ll crawl on hands and knees searching with gloved hands through a darkness you can’t see through for a man who’s trapped in his home as it burns down around you. You won’t find him in time, and you’ll be forced to leave him…only to realize later that unbeknownst to you, he had already burned up and you were crawling all over the top of his burned corpse…his melted skin now covering you, hanging from you like the memory of that night will hang with you…forever haunting you. The smell will be like you never expected…the memory of that smell will ruin many future meals for you.
One beautiful, sunny, warm morning you’ll send your own kids off to school and come to work. Your first call of the day will be a seven year old boy who’s just been run over by the school bus, his body split wide open from gut to knee. Still alive, the look in his eyes as you scoop him into your arms will haunt you until the day you die. You’ll know you did all you could for him, but even knowing that is not enough to keep his mother’s screams and the cries of his friends on the bus from jolting you from your sleep fifteen years later.
Some day you’ll have to experience worse than all that. Things that can’t be described. Things that you’ll have to bury deep in the recesses of your own mind just to keep moving forward. Things that can’t be shared with someone outside of the brotherhood who’s lived it with you. You’ll hear people say your job is great, that the schedule is nice and the pay makes it worth it. To that, you’ll force a fake smile, grit your teeth and just walk away…because it’s just not worth it. You’ll want to say, “yeah, it’s got its good days, but here…let me dump a career’s worth of memories from the bad days on you and we’ll see how great you think it is then.” But you won’t. Because the people who’ll say those things to you don’t know…and they’ll never know.
It’s a rewarding career whose rewards come at a price. If you’re willing to pay that price, then follow your dreams. If your wife is willing to pay the price alongside you, then follow your dreams. If your wife is half as selfless and loving as your mother, then you’ve got a great head start in getting through your career with your sanity intact. With God leading you and Jesus walking with you, you’ll have what you need to survive it. I honestly don’t know how someone without Jesus can do it.
Don’t get me wrong…it’s got its good days too. You’ll watch a man die right in front of you and you’ll have a hand in bringing him back to life. You’ll carry a woman out of a burning building and hand her off to medics while you run back in to put the fire out. You’ll hold a lifeless child and be the hands of God that breath life back into her. You’ll do lots of good things that go unnoticed and unrewarded. And that’s fine…because you won’t be doing it for recognition. You’ll be doing it knowing what you got into. You’ll be doing it because not everyone can. You’ll be doing it because the guy next to you is counting on you. You’ll be doing it because if not you, then who? And that’s why we do it.