Yesterday was another one in the books at the firehouse. I was working as captain on the Engine Company, which translates roughly into “they had no else qualified”. We made an interesting call or two around our district, visited Lyle and his manager down at Big Momma’s coffee, observed the comings and goings of our regional homeless shopping cart pushers. All in all the day was looking to stay on an upbeat note, outside of the people having emergencies dire enough to merit a call to 911.
As we rolled east on Commercial Street towards the next medical call, I was struck by the wail of the wind-up siren as the sonic assault reverberated off of the tall buildings. Between the air horns and the Federal Q “Meatgrinder” siren, there is no mistaking the cacophony headed your way. Pedestrians cover their ears sometimes, kids pull against their mothers protective restraint towards us, waving like maniacs and grinning from ear to ear. Drivers on cell phones sometimes act oblivious to the lights and sirens, and then swerve wildly upon realizing there’s 30 tons of fire apparatus trying to get their attention. We can’t hear just how loud it gets since we’re wearing headsets, protecting our ears and allowing us to converse in hushed tones as opposed to screaming at one another over the symphony of insanity.
Back to the now, and as we head out, the wailing continuing it’s lilting song of warning, I’m keenly aware that the very howling that alerts everyone else to an emergency brings me a calm, the likes of which I cannot describe. Rather than getting amped into panic, the sirens soothe me, they remind me of why we’re here, away from our loved ones, spending time with people who don’t necessarily want to spend time with us. More importantly, I think I love the Q since it represents the symptom of a bigger issue: I’m addicted to the chaos.
When the tones hit the station, the engine and ladder truck are fired up in the bay and the lights turned on, the whole game is changed. Driving laws alter, if only slightly. Citizens can’t complain to the newspaper that we’re “just sitting around”. We never know what’s on the end of the call, whether it’s going to be pretty boring (usually is) or, like last night, unhinged pandemonium, stabbings and blood and terror. We’re jumping into the fray, be it a house on fire or a multiple car pile-up in an intersection. And it’s a rush.
I’d be lying if I said otherwise. We, too, become junkies, looking for that rush in the form of a busy firehouse. Most guys WANT to be headed to calls, they WANT to help, and soon, too soon, they sort of NEED to make calls to remind themselves why they’re in this gig. No one becomes a firefighter for the high pay. Some people say it’s because the schedule is so open, and I’ll admit, that’s a big draw for me as well; it allows me the time to be a better dad, to spin tall tales such as this. But mostly, I’m hooked.
Hooked on the chaos. Hooked on the unknown. Hooked, addicted, in love, call-it-whatever, to the rush. The surge in the emotional and physical inconsistencies keeps me coming back for more, year after year. Nothing compares to it, not my years as a volunteer fireman, not my work in the oil fields of Alaska’s North Slope nor the freedom afforded me by a ride down the backroads on the motorcycle.
We’re all hopelessly in love with it, somehow. Even when the calls are bad, they’re calls. When the politicians talk out of both sides of their mouths, that’s frustrating, but nothing unusual, and that’s not worth losing the love, either.
Next time you hear the wailing chorus of horns and sirens and lights on a fire engine, take a look up in the cab. Chances are, one of the guys up there is grinning like a goofy bastard, like your dog might as he hangs his head out the window. Someone up there is working the siren, a beautiful song in their ears. The call may be serious, but the ride? Totally worth it.