Wednesday, December 17, 2008


My fire guys are outside my window tonight. The red lights atop Truck 5 & 4, flash like the beacons they are, into the expanse of night on our road. They'll be on traffic control. Not usually necessary at this distance from scene out here in the country, but the crest of the hill and the new bridge make it a possible road danger, with a fire so close. Trucks 2 & 3, pumper and tanker, respectively, will be closer to my neighbour's house, or her barn, or her kennels. That's where I'd usually be, up beside the pumper, with Chief, taking his notes, responding to his constant requests for updates and wanting to know WHO he has and on what team to go in...that's me: taking care of Accountability, and making sure that no-one (and I mean NO-ONE) gets past my body with it's weighted down with Crew Tags clipboard, without tagging in. Except that for the past year, I've been unable to serve with my Crew.

Not quite sure HOW I missed the sirens wailing past our house. There's only a river, about 20 acres, and one home between their home and ours. Not only can I no longer drive over and see if my neighbour needs a hand with her daughter in the wheelchair, her two horses, her bitches about to have their Registered Labrador pups, their chickens and their beloved house dogs BUT I also can't help put out the fire. I love to put out fires.

At first, I really liked being one of only two women in our Fire Hall. But soon, it didn't matter that I was a girl...on the Fire Dept., you are never a girl, you are always (along with everyone else) a Firefighter. Nancy and I joined the same night, in November 5, years ago. Naturally, we grew close. And, as is natural with a Fire Crew, we all grew close. You don't clean up accidents on the highway, pull people from boating wreckages, save a drowning victims life, try to rescue someone and they become a recovery, try to save your neighbour's grandfather with CPR and Defribrilation, put out bush, vehicle, train, teenage drinking sites & structure fires without getting close.

So, when I got put on light duty just over a year and half ago, I was frustrated but ok with it because I became a scene-Scribe. Apparently, I made legible & very accurate accounts of fire or rescue scene's as they played out. My Drama writing skills earned through my degree in Theatre appear to have come in handy for something. Even doing Accountabilty, I still felt useful. Now, I am watching the red lights flash around, and around, and I ache to be out there in the snow with them. I ache to be part of the problem solving and the elevated levels of cortisol that fire up when you throw yourself into this kind of situation. Yes, it's possible to create "fight or flight" situations for yourself. Join the volunteer Fire Dept. in your small town and find out for yourself. They'll even throw in a uniform and training for you...seriously, it's amazing. Not necessarily healthy for you, but amazing. (OH, and training at the Ontario Fire College...absolutely BRILLIANT!!!)

I realize not everyone wants to be a Fire Fighter. And I never did, until I was working in the Municipal office and the 'tones' would go off, and a bunch of guys from the office would stop whatever they were doing and run out the door. The whole time they were gone, I was consumed with what they were doing. Then they'd return later, with either elation or melancholy present on their faces. I was struck by how seldom anything in between appeared on those faces. I started asking questions about the 'calls'..."did it go ok?"; "anyone hurt?"; and if it went well, you'd get lots of details; if it didn't go well, you'd get a shake of the head. Depending on who you were talking with, the melancholy would last anywhere from an hour or so, to days. I didn't understand the magnitude of the divide between the two fully, until I did my first rescue/recovery/death. It took me over a week to recover...and I talked to someone. I was offered counselling. I almost took it but then a peace washed over me and there was light back in my heart. The peace washed over me as we CPR'd a man to life again. OK...this IS worth it. Volunteer Fire Departments aren't all about fires, the Jaws of Life, and blowing off hose. Although, blowing off hose is seriously great fun. It's serious stuff too, and needs to be handled responsibly, but, ok, it's fun.

My latex allergy got bigger than me.

While efforts were made to minimize latex in the our fire hall, and our vehicles, latex reactions were behind my no longer being able to Fire Fight. I was crushed. It took me over 6 months to return my red jumpsuit, my boots, my goggles and my pager. I had done the responsible thing as soon as I could no longer drive (license revoked to blackouts that are now attributed to drops in blood pressure during allergic reactions) and given my radio to a new guy who was looking to be a serious keep for our District. Turns out my instinct was a good one, and he's using that radio to this day and responding to most calls. That makes me proud and happy. But sad. When my District Chief gave me one of the halls new tshirts, I burst into tears. I felt wrong taking a shirt for something I was no longer doing. He hugged me and told me, "once a Fire Fighter, always a Fire Fighter. You'll always be part of our team whether you're on scene or off. You've been there, you've done what you could and now you have to let us do our bit. But you're one of us. And when they figure out how to help you, you'll do it again. Until then, you gotta stay safe." He asked me to stop crying because he thought he would. We laughed and the tears subsided. That was just a couple of months ago.

It's been over 4 hours and the lights are still out there. Smudged between the moisture on my farmhouse windows and my tired eyes, the red hues flicker as they rotate. I hope my neighbour's ok. I hope her family and animals are ok. Normally I would know what is needed to help in the aftermath, but I'm out of the loop. I wouldn't have known they were out there if I hadn't been on the phone-tree in the neighbourhood. We might be acres apart, but we all KNOW what's going down next door. And it's important that we are there for each other as neighbours. I will have to find out from someone else if there is anything we can offer from our home and land to help our neighbours. Until then, my guys are out there, and I'm in here. Just feels wrong.

I know it's important that we count our blessings with this allergy, especially when it gets to life-threatening proportions. Being human, I find myself trying to count those blessings. But, am overwhelmed by the sense of loss I feel in not being able to help my neighbour in her hour of need. It's hard thinking about what I've lost, to add this to my List of Losts. Some people call them "Losses" but that seems so, permanent. I like to think of them as Losts because there is the underlying implication that somehow, someday & somewhere, they might be Founds. So until we have a cure, and until we learn how to prevent this allergy from getting any worse, I need to view the changes in my 'normal' life as Losts, not Losses. There's hope in Losts.

I hope my neighbour hasn't got a long list of Losses this evening too. I hope we reached her in time, and I hoped we helped.

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