Being involved in the emergency services field in Rutland County for four years as an emergency medical technician (EMT), I've seen a lot in my 25 years of life - perhaps sometimes more than anyone could imagine.
There are emergency calls that shock you and bring streams of tears. There are calls in which you witness the joys of life. There are calls that never ever leave your mind, body and soul.
The Rutland Tribune has taken on the task of featuring every fire and rescue squad in Rutland County during the 2008-09 period; it's a way of celebrating all the area squads and their volunteers (and professionals) as they serve our communities. As a reporter, I've been commissioned with the task of writing these features. And even though I am a writer, I can't fully articulate what it's really like when it's time to respond to an emergency call.
Thankfully, I came across a wonderful essay a few years ago penned by an anonymous writer; it shows how and why local fire, police and rescue personnel respond to calls on a 24/7 basis.
As we celebrate the holiday season, please remember those who stand ready to help strangers at a moment's notice. Take a moment to be thankful for our local volunteers and professionals - because your life, and the lives of those you love, can change in an instant.
"I Wish You Could See"
"I wish you could see the sadness of a business man as his livelihood goes up in flames, or that family returning home, only to find their house and belongings damaged or lost for good.
"I wish you could know what it is like to search a burning beroom for trapped children, flames rolling above your head, your palms and knees burning as you crawl, the floor sagging under your weight as the kitchen below you burns.
"I wish you could comprehend a wife's horror at 3 a.m. as I check her husband of 40 years for a pulse and find none. I start CPR anyway, hoping to bring him back, knowing intuitively it is too late. But wanting his wife and family to know everything possible was done to try to save his life.
"I wish you knew the unique smell of burning insulation, the taste of soot-filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of flames crackling, the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke; sensations that I've become too familiar with.
"I wish you could understand how it feels to go to work in the morning after having spent most of the night, hot and soaking wet at a multiple alarm fire.
"I wish you could read my mind as I respond to a building fire: Is this a false alarm or a working fire? How is the building constructed? What hazards await me? Is anyone trapped? Or to an EMS call - What is wrong with the patient? Is it minor or life threatening? Is the caller really in distress or is he waiting for us with a 2x4 or a gun?
"I wish you could be in the emergency room as a doctor pronounces as dead, the beautiful five-year old girl that I have been trying to save during the past 25 minutes. She will never go on her first date or say the words, 'I love you Mommy' again.
"I wish you could know the frustration I feel in the cab of the engine or my personal vehicle, the driver with his foot pressing down hard on the pedal, my arm tugging again and again at the air horn chain, as you fail to yield the right-of-way at an intersection or pull to the right in traffic. When you need us, however, your first comment upon our arrival will be, 'It took you forever to get here!'
"I wish you could know my thoughts as I help extricate a girl of teenage years from the remains of her automobile. What if this was my sister, my girlfriend or a friend? What was her parents reaction going to be when they opened the door to find a police officer with hat in hand?
"I wish you could know how it feels to walk in the backdoor and greet my parents and family, not having the heart to tell them that I nearly did not come back from the last call.
"I wish you could feel the hurt as people verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse us or belittle what I do, or as they express their attitudes of 'It will never happen to me.' I volunteer my evenings, nights, weekends and holidays to protect people I don't even know.
"I wish you could realize the physical, emotional and mental drain or missed meals, lost sleep and forgone social activities, in addition to all the tragedy my eyes have seen.
"I wish you could know the brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or preserving someone's property, or being able to be there in time of crisis, or creating order from total chaos.
"I wish you could understand what it feels like to have a little boy tugging at your arm and asking, 'Is Mommy okay?' Not even being able to look in his eyes without tears from your own and not knowing what to say. Or to have to hold back a long-time friend who watches his buddy, while rescue breathing is performed, as they take him away in an ambulance. You know all along he didn't have a seat belt on - a sensation that I have become all too familiar with.
"Unless you have lived this kind of a life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, who we are, or what our job really means to us - I wish you could though."
Angela DeBlasio lives in Rutland County. She is a freelance writer and EMT volunteer.