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Sometimes People Die

Al Jones


Most people would envy the job they have. They are held in very high esteem and are looked up to by most. You ask a classroom of grade school children what they want to be when they grow up, and inevitably, at least a dozen will say, “Fireman” or “Firefighter” or “Ambulance driver”. Women like to see them in uniform, and both men and women give them the utmost respect. People of all ages wave to them on the street and smile. So, how is it that, as we grow older, we don’t all follow through and pursue careers in the Emergency Services field?

I can’t speak for others, but I bet many of them drop those dreams for the same reason I did. I remember it was career day at our high school. The year was 1979. The gymnasium was decked out with tables laid out like a mini trade fair. Behind tables, there were displays and on the tables, numerous brochures and other informational literature. Each table had one or two representatives at it that could speak to kids about their experiences. One of the busiest tables was the one manned by several Firefighters. They showed us a slide show of some of the things they did and gave us information on requirements necessary to do the job and have a successful career. For those of us that were leaning towards such a career, we were invited to a more in-depth presentation that following weekend. I went to that session, along with fifty or so others. When I left, only two of us had signed up to go any further. I knew I couldn’t do the job for one simple reason … because sometimes people die.

I can’t imagine getting over being responsible for trying to save another’s life and failing. I can picture running into a burning building, only to find out later that if I had turned right instead of left when making my way through thick smoke, I could have saved a child. It’s a fifty-fifty decision … and sometimes people die.

I can’t imagine going over events in my head after running out of time before a roof collapses and wondering if I could have had thirty seconds more if I would have saved someone’s grandmother. But fire is unpredictable. Nobody can know exactly where it will do the most damage until after the fact. And because of that unpredictability … sometimes people die.

I can’t imagine trying to revive someone on scene, or in the back of an ambulance for what surely must seem like an eternity, only to find out from emergency room doctors later that, despite all your best efforts, sometimes people die.

I can’t imagine losing a colleague, friend, or brother, while fighting side by side; trying to avoid the guilt that it was he and not you. Silently mourning while still having to continue the battle at hand. Being forced to accept it because… sometimes people die.

It takes a strong individual to be able to work in such volatile situations and still keep their emotions in check. To overcome what would put most of us into a deep depression, and to rise again with confidence in knowing that they won’t lose the next one. It’s an inner strength that’s hard to find in individuals. Yet we expect that, despite one loss, or failure, they will continue to be strong for the next battle. It takes tremendous courage to show up for a shift, knowing that it could be your last one, because in this line of work … sometimes people die.

We may not all be firefighters, but we can all help. This week is Fire Prevention Week. Time to remind ourselves to check our smoke alarms, carbon monoxide sensors, furnace filters, clean out fireplace flues, and remind families and coworkers about fire escape routes in the home and workplace.

It’s also a time to recognize that the job emergency workers do on our behalf is a job most of us could never do. They take on a responsibility most of us are incapable of. A time to understand that fire prevention is not about lessening their workload, but about realizing that if we are not proactive in the prevention of fires … that sometimes people die.






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