Who You Gonna Call? Heroes, That’s Who

It’s amazing to me that tragedy carries the same influence as beauty, but the two couldn’t be more different: We always stop and stare at the things we find beautiful, or the things that we find tragic. And that, my friends, is very subjective.

While driving to an interview earlier this week I happened to see a plume of smoke hovering in downtown Winston-Salem. Of course the journalist in me hurried to the scene, while the human in me called 9-1-1. The journalist in me grabbed the camera out of my bag and ran to back of the building to document what I was seeing, which was a rather uneventful kitchen fire in a restaurant. The human in me was aching to get inside to make sure there was no one injured, incapacitated, or otherwise in danger.

As I was making my way around the building, the firefighters arrived on the scene, which sent me scurrying outside the fire line for safety reasons.

In 2010 while I was in school in Colorado, I was curious to know what it was like to be a firefighter. Why do people choose to put themselves in danger just for the purpose of helping others? It was a foreign concept to me — not fighting fires, but the selfless act of helping others as a career — so I decided to investigate.

After filling out the paperwork at the main office, I was scheduled for a sevenhour ride-along with the Denver Fire Department. I rode my bicycle down to the station house, which is located right in the heart of downtown Denver and welcomes you when you get off on Speer Blvd. from I-25. There is a training tower where firefighters practice climbing stairs and assessing the different situations they encounter in the field. There is a big garage, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a basketball hoop, and a lot of hoses.

I was born in 1985, which meant I grew up knowing that 9-1-1 meant a responder would be on the scene quickly. I pictured firefighters as people who came to save the day, and really beyond that, nothing more. That is their job. I never really considered the risk involved, nor did I really think to acknowledge that these men and women were leaving their families for 24 hours at a time just to be there when another family has an emergency. That’s a humbling realization.

I arrived at the fire department around 7 a.m. during a shift change and was told to sit in the garage. I did some incredibly rookie interviews – I was writing for the college newspaper where the original story printed five or six years ago – and tried to introduce myself as best I could. In the years since, I’ve honed those skills.

Over the course of the entire day we went on four calls. When the bell rang in the station house I was told to be standing by the truck within 20 seconds because that’s about how long it takes the firefighters to wake up, slide the pole, get dressed and be in the truck. I figured since I had to walk less than 15 feet I would be good, but little did I know, I was not. These men and women are so on point that a fire station operates similar to the cogs of a grandfather clock striking an alarm — one arm ticks forward, nine wheels turn, two bells ring, and before you know it, the moment has passed and the future is now the present.

I rode in the truck with the crew wearing my fire station issued boots and bibs. They would be discussing the call, the location, the neighborhood, and at one time even the person who made the call, which was someone they had become quite familiar with.

When I approached the scene on Monday afternoon at Wen Hua Asian Fusion Cuisine, the images of riding in that truck came back to me in a very clear memory. I tried to picture the Winston-Salem firefighters talking about the call, what they were expecting, and how they would handle it. When the trucks arrived and crews were unloading, no beat was missed.

Communication was clearly spoken. Directions were given and followed. Safety remained the biggest concern. And everyone was OK.

I must tip my hat to firefighters today, even though I’ve been lucky to not need to call them yet. These people literally wait around, training and preparing to come save your life.

One firefighter in Denver explained to me that firefighters catch grief sometimes because, as he said, “we just work out all day and respond to calls.”

I watched nearly nine trucks unload teams of people who were itching to save lives and put themselves in harms way at the risk of their own life. That’s more than commendable, that’s honorable. And if that means that teams of people need to sit around training and waiting to come save my life, well, those are the people I want doing it. !