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Early Retirement…Passing the Torch

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The fire service, is rich with tradition, many rooted deep in our history. When we start the job, we’re issued a compliment of various Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that only we wear. Over the course of many years on the job, this gear provides for us a degree of protection…keeping us safe from injury…and yes, even death. It’s not uncommon to grow attached to this equipment, as it quite literally becomes an extension of ourselves.

The tradition I mention above is that we wear our gear…particularly our helmet…as a badge of honor. Tradition says that as the helmet has protected us while fighting what others fear, it becomes scarred. Dented. Smoke-stained. Seasoned. To clean a battle-scarred helmet is to dishonor it and the profession.

The seasoned helmet serves as a reminder of what we’ve faced. The exciting

Garage Fire

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and the not so exciting.

It reminds us to watch our six.

And it reminds us of our blessings

Blessing in a Helmet

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So, it’s a bittersweet day at the firehouse today. After almost ten years, I’m retiring helmet #2. Mind you, not by choice…technically it has 5 months before its ten-year life span is reached. Nonetheless, this baby is moving into retirement, making room for a new one to usher in a new era in my career. This piece of equipment representing ten years of life on the job will one day be passed to you. Whatever you do…don’t clean it. It’s done its job and kept me safe…protected me. It’s earned the right to stay dented, scratched, and stained.

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A Last Ride

Now a new helmet will don my noggin through the next decade of my career…

Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

As my old helmet passes the torch to the new one, so I will one day pass the torch of manhood to you…pass to you the sum of my experiences…not just on the job, but in the life I’ve lived. It’s my life’s goal that what you learn from me not be in the words I share, but in the way I’ve lived. That’s primarily why I’ve not written any notes here in awhile…as I am trying to spend more time WITH you and less time writing TO you.

It’s my hope that when I’m old and living in retirement, you can look at my scars…my dents…my stains…my wrinkles…my frailness…and proudly see the man of my youth who did his job and protected his family…kept them safe…and raised them up in the Truth.

Love,

Dad

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Welcome To My Vulnerability

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To my friends and family in the EMS community,

Thank you for taking a moment from your day to drop by. I am honored and blessed that the creator of our Facebook page “EMS for Christ” allowed me to become an admin for the page. It has been a blessing for me to step out of my comfort zone and share some of my walk of faith with you. And I’ve enjoyed watching the “fan base” grow to just over 900 at my last check-in. I have been reluctant to share my personal blog on our Facebook page’s wall much, because I don’t want to come across as though I’m pushing my blog for my own prideful gain. I just don’t want to come across that way at all, because it’s not who I am. Most of what I write here is written as notes to my children, so they’re not things that are necessarily “appropriate” to share on our Facebook page, given the mission and goal of the page. But I’m having such a difficult time processing my emotions following a recent incident at work, that my last four blog entries have been devoted to this alone, and not really addressed to my children. Which brings me to why I invited you here today.

There was some great discussion on our recent post about dealing with on-the-job related lost-traumatic stress. I’ll be honest, I asked that question somewhat selfishly. I responded this incident about two weeks ago that started affecting me almost immediately, and the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion…emotions I’m not comfortable with, and feelings that are overwhelming. My partner and I were on the confined space entry team to perform this recovery, which is about all the incident-related specifics I can share here. I posed the question on our Facebook wall, in part because I’m looking for some reinforcement for myself…but I also know that with over 900 followers on that page, there are others out there who are dealing with this too, or have dealt with it in the past. My goal was not only to help myself a little bit, but to maybe help someone else who’s in a similar season, or will be in the future.

You see, although I feel isolated and alone, I know I’m not. I know others in our “family” have gone through their own post-traumatic incident-induced stress. And I believe in drawing upon the strength of those who have walked through a similar valley. We who work in this field, be it EMS, fire, police, dispatch, hospital, public, private or military are unique. The people around us don’t get it. Honestly, I don’t blame them. Until you’ve walked side-by-side with death, you can’t understand. We truly are a family of our own, regardless of whether we work together or not. Quite honestly, I’m closer to my crew than I am some of my own flesh and blood family, not counting my wife. Love ya’ baby. 🙂 But there are some things I can’t share with her. I can’t share the specifics of my incident with her, for her own sake. She and I have talked in general about my battle, and she’s completely on board with supporting me in whatever capacity I need. But our EMS “family” can help each other in ways even our spouses cannot.

For me, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and I’m plowing through this minefield of emotion in several ways. I was able to seek guidance from my senior pastor two days afterward. The perspective offered by a neutral friend, who is also a believer is priceless. It didn’t hurt that he served in the field prior to being called to pastor. I’m also good friends with a new pastor who recently left our department after over ten years as a firefighter to answer God’s call to pastor a church nearby. I’m blessed to have these two great resources. I’ve also tried running to burn through the stress. Exercise helps me to focus my mind and my thoughts into something understandable. And I’ve blogged. About this topic and how it’s affected me, I’ve blogged a lot in the last two weeks.

I’ve been encouraged to share my writings in a wider circle. And I believe some of what I’m dealing with during this time of my life may resonate with someone out there on the job. I could be way off here, but I hope not. You should know, though, I’m certainly not the man with the answers. I am the WORST of the worst sinners, and I don’t consider myself worthy to help guide a fellow believer along his own path, because more often than not, I’m the one that needs the guidance. I am who I am only through the saving grace of my Savior Jesus.

I don’t like putting myself “out there”. My site here is pretty simple and quaint. I have a small following, mostly family and friends. And I’m comfortable like that. The thought of opening myself up to a bigger world is scary. I don’t like being vulnerable. And yet I believe God is asking me to do just that. To allow strangers into my little world, so someone somewhere can see that they’re not alone either. Because trust me, I feel alone and isolated in my feelings right now. I know I’m not, but that doesn’t change how I feel.

So here goes a leap of faith. If you’re walking through a post-traumatic stress-filled world, you are NOT alone. Seek the help and support you need. Reach out. To someone. I know reaching out to people at work is not always feasible. I get that completely. I haven’t shared what I’m going through with any of my coworkers yet. I think only one or two might actually take time to read my little blog, which is fine. This is part of the scary part of opening myself up like this, because I do know that several of my coworkers “like” the Facebook page, so they’re seeing this for the first time, and I’ll be honest…I’m not sure I’m completely ready for this next part of the ride. But it’s a leap of faith for a reason, right?

Whether you are in the valley now, have been there or will be in the future, I hope you can find God’s voice talking to you in what I’m sharing. Remember, I’m not the man with all the answers. But I know the man who is. He suffered everything we’ve ever suffered and more…endured everything we’ve ever endured and more. Felt everything we’ve ever felt and more. Walked everywhere we’ve ever walked and more. His name is Jesus Christ, and you can know him too if you don’t already. You can catch up with me on where I have been, and see where I’m going, by visiting my new page dedicated to this new part of my life’s journey.

Thank you for stopping in and allowing me the opportunity to share my most personal, vulnerable thoughts and emotions with you. If you are walking in the valley right now, seek support. You can comment or email me through here. You can comment on our Facebook page, or send a message to the page’s admins. You can share a general prayer request or be as specific as you want to be (and can be in a public forum). We are here for you. We are in this together. We are not alone.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

I will continue to share my walk along this particular path with you on our Facebook page, for as long as you’ll allow me. I pray you don’t see it as a selfish pride for me, but as a desire to 1. Help in my own healing; and 2. To be an encouragement for someone else’s healing. Have a blessed day and be safe out there.

Jay

Just Another Grass Fire

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I’m laying here in bed at work…wide awake after waking from a dream. It was a dream that was partially rehashing a call we ran earlier today, a grass fire on the side of the highway. By the actual definition of “close call”, it was not. It was a routine call, without further incident. However, I quite honestly consider every time I step off the truck on the highway, and live to tell about it…a close call. I’ve said for years I’d rather run into a burning building with little chance of survival than to step off the truck on the interstate.

Let’s just call it what it is…generally speaking, the general public doesn’t give a single thought to the safety of their firefighters, police officers and paramedics. When they’re driving down the interstate and see my firetruck, their first thought isn’t “hey, I’ll slow down…move over a lane…and do my part to make sure these guys make it home to their wives and kids tomorrow morning.” No, they have somewhere to be, and my firetruck blocking a lane of traffic is impeding their progress. They’re distracted with their cell phone…or the cup of coffee in their hand…or with the radio…or…you get the picture. And honestly, I don’t blame them…completely. Until you’ve stood on the interstate in the middle of the night…in the pouring rain…and watched as cars and semis whiz by you at 70+ mph, within two feet of you, you really just don’t get it. Until you’ve been knocked off balance by the force of the wind from a passing car…or sat in the stopped truck waiting to open the door to get out, as it rocked violently back and forth from the semi that just passed within inches of you…or had the smack on your backside from a passing car’s side-view mirror…you just don’t get it.

So as I lay here, thankful that what transpired on the roadside grass fire in my dream is not what I faced on the highway this afternoon, I’m left with a vivid image of a road sign from my dream…a road sign with a peculiar inscription. On our highway call earlier today, it was a road sign that sat 200 feet in front of us and read it’s a state law to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are stopped on the highway. Ironic, eh? The following is what was written on the road sign in my dream:

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he’s called upon to do something that offers him no tangible benefit in return. How he responds to that call will follow him beyond the grave. The benefit of his decision to act is in knowing that he did so merely because it was the right thing to do.”

Be safe out there, and remember…slow down and move over when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the highway. Somebody is counting on you to do your part to help him make it home to his wife and kids in the morning.

Love,

Dad

Spread Your Wings and Fly

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Every child has a dream to grow up and be a __________. Not all dreams are the same, and each child has his own ambitions and desires. There are only a few things I ever remember wanting to be. My first memories of a dream job were wanting to be a pilot. I wanted to fly. I still do, actually. Back then I wanted to fly commercial airliners. I actually used to dream about flying, but not in a plane…just running through a field and taking off like Superman, flying over trees, houses, buildings and the world. I haven’t had those dreams in many years, but I vividly remember those dreams, and how they inspired my desire to learn how to fly. Besides, being a pilot has a certain allure to it that just permeates “cool.” And then I found out that in order to be a commercial pilot, you have to have good vision. I don’t.

So I moved on to wanting to be a doctor. I carried this dream for a few years, moving from one specialty to another. I remember wanting to be a brain surgeon, a cardiologist, and then an emergency room doctor. I think I’ve always had a desire to help people, and this seemed like a logical fit. It didn’t hurt that it also is a job that speaks “cool”…and makes good money. Then I found out that to be a doctor required 4 years of college…followed by 4 years of medical school…followed by more schooling for the specific specialty. That sounded like more than I could handle.

So the next logical choice was a police officer. After all, what job is cooler than one where I can help people by shooting bad guys? That was about the time the tv show COPS was in its prime. It didn’t take long to figure out that most of being a cop is listening to people fight and trying to figure out who’s lying. Like I don’t have enough problems of my own, I want to mitigate everyone else’s? And running…I hate running. Being a cop means you have to be able to run after bad guys. I was so out of shape in my youth that the mere thought of running took my breath away. I knew right away that I’d be fired the first time a bad guy ran…because I’d be the guy to shoot him in the back instead of running after him.

Which brings me to what I do today. I remember well what first turned me on to firefighting…the “Kansas City Six”. On November 30, 1988 a fire at a construction site in south Kansas City involved a pickup truck and two storage trailers. Shortly after the first two engine companies arrived, a series of explosions rocked though the site, killing six firefighters. The investigation afterward revealed that the two storage trailers contained 40,000 pounds of explosives, some of which were mixed with kerosene. The deaths left the community in shock, and coverage of the incident was all over the place. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school, living only 90 minutes south of Kansas City. We couldn’t escape the media coverage. When the firefighters were laid to rest, the memorial service was held in Arrowhead Stadium, the NFL stadium where the K.C. Chiefs play. My memory of the event was that the stadium was near full. In looking back through the archived stories in the papers, reports say that over 5000 firefighters turned out to pay their respects, in addition to countless citizens, and friends and family of the six firefighters.

And that’s what impressed me. To see that many people come from all over the country…some from other countries altogether…to say goodbye and honor six strangers…people they didn’t know, other than through their common career…was inspiring. That’s what got my mind thinking that I didn’t want a job just to be cool or to make lots of money. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself…part of a brotherhood that takes care of its own…a group that has a rich history, filled with tradition, honor, sacrifice. It would take me several years to begin turning that dream into reality.

After marrying your mom in ’93 and moving back to Nevada and buying our first home, I was a manager at McDonald’s. I’d worked my way through high school and most of my college years at McDonald’s, and it was a natural fit to move into management as we settled into a home and our lives together as a newly married couple starting out anew. It was 1994, and I saw an advertisement in the newspaper seeking volunteer firefighters. With a friend from work, I applied…and they actually hired me. The FD there has one station with a paid crew of 4, so they rely heavily on volunteers to fill out manpower needs on varying incidents and during times high call volume. With no experience whatsoever, I was handed fire gear and welcomed to the ranks. Within a month or so, I had my first fire, and the bug was in my blood. Once the firefighting bug is in the bloodstream, it’s there for life.

I was content to be a volunteer, not giving much thought to doing it as a career. At the time, the department was young…there was little likelihood that they would be hiring anytime in the near future. After volunteering in Nevada for a little over a year, I changed jobs, taking a management/ownership role with Sonic. That required a move, so the dream was on hold for now. Ironically, within a few days of accepting the position with Sonic, a paid position opened up, and the FD was seeking someone to fill it. I didn’t apply, because I’d already committed to Sonic, and you know me…once I’ve given my word, I’ll honor it. So, we moved. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t apply for that position, because if I had been hired, I’d be there now instead of where I am now. We wouldn’t have SD and DWS, and life wouldn’t be the same. God rewards the patient…and those who honor their word.

We settled in St. Charles county in August 1995, and within about a year I took a volunteer position with St. Charles Fire Protection District. I truly enjoyed those years…getting calls at all times of the day and night, leaving meals on the table to be eaten later and leaving bed at 4:00 a.m. to do something I love. My sights were set on moving up the chain within Sonic, though. I was in pursuit of money, prestige and power. However, God humbled me, and in November of ’97, my time with Sonic had come to a close…a story for another day. It was time to move on.

When I left Sonic, I knew that within 5 months, the voters in our fire district would be presented with an opportunity to merge our fire district with the St. Peters Fire Protection District. If that vote passed, the new fire district would hire 27 paid firefighters, starting from within the ranks of its volunteers. I did my time, trained to pass the physical agility test, and in the summer of ’98, I was hired. My first day on the job was July 20, 1998…we spent 8 hours a day for the first five days in orientation, and I started my first 24 hour shift the next day, my 25th birthday. The night of my first shift, my truck was first in on a house fire. What a birthday present! I love my job. Yesterday marks the anniversary of my 13th year on the job, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Whatever you decide to do with your life…whether you follow my footsteps into firefighting or flip burgers at McDonald’s…do it with honor, humility and pride. No matter what career path you choose, know that I’m proud of you. Not for what you do or how you do it…but for who you are. Follow your dreams and don’t give up on them when you face adversity. Spread your wings and fly. I’m turning 38 in four days, and I still have a dream to fly. I haven’t given up on that dream, and one day I may just learn how to fly.

Love,

Dad

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