Imagine if you will, you’re now a
lieutenant. Scratch that. You’re a LIEUTENANT on the CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI FIRE DEPARTMENT, and that is an alleged “Big Deal” to the Administration of aforementioned department and now you have responsibilities. Real responsibilities with real consequences.
One of those responsibilities, among the myriad arrows slung your way, is to ride with a Battalion Chief and shadow him/her in their day-to-day moves, to get a better grasp on THEIR world, the chess games they play with manpower distribution, the oddly tenuous dance between management and line personnel. It’s a dance for sure, and one to which I do not know the steps, only that it’s foreign to me. And I played along, sorting out the responsibilities that come with the position, guzzling coffee and angrily offering suggestions in spreadsheets. And then the call came in for a fire.
Battalion Chiefs in our Fair City respond to all structure fires, and just like that, I was riding shotgun with the actual Battalion, he firing up the electronic siren, me, incredulous that we were attempting to part traffic in an SUV. It was a completely off-putting experience, really. Cars didn’t seem to respect his electronic siren and horn and glaring lights, not until the Engine and Heavy Rescue came up behind, mechanical sirens growling menacingly and air horns commanding attention. In that very moment, I realized just what a lonely perch it is the Chiefs live on; their shoulders must bear the weight of command decisions to send willing firefighters into burning buildings, their consciences left to deal with the consequences. There he was, frustrated that the college kids couldn’t seem to grasp the notion of pulling over TO THE RIGHT (for god’s sakes, friends, please, please, please pull to the right, not to the left and DO NOT VAPOR LOCK AND JUST STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD, YOU’RE FREAKING MY ENGINEER OUT). The Battalion is the position most demanding in terms of the burden, but it is the guys and gals on the line rolling up behind in the large red trucks that will be getting the work done, and when they approach the intersection, it is to them whom the confused drivers defer. I nervously slugged more coffee, convinced we were going to get plowed by a rogue concrete truck who would likely be unaware that in THIS moment a Ford SUV was an actual emergency rig.
The fire turned out to be nothing of note, and soon enough, it was time for me to take my usual right hand seat position back on the Red Devil known as Engine 1. I fussed over my gear placement, as firefighters are like pro athletes in this way only; every ritual has a purpose in our minds, and if the ritual is broken, we are to be cursed and madly so. The boots go HERE. The nomex hood has to sit JUST SO between my pants and coat. The radio is, must be, on THIS CHANNEL. Satisfied, I headed back into the dining area for some dinner, taking my usual place among my boys, enduring their barbs and slings and that which binds us all together when not on a fire scene. Then, of course, the tones blare out, and once again, someone is having a very bad day and is requesting our help.
I have an odd quirk among many; I like to run the “Q” siren myself, wailing it up and down in my own way, while my Engineer mans the air horns. We have a distinctive call, in my opinion, and in a nod to tradition, we announce our arrival loudly with the sirens signature howl. And as we careen through an intersection, the cars pulled over to the side, I realize that I am right where I need to be; I belong on the Line, with my boys. I am overwhelmed at times with the sheer responsibility of what lies at my feet, but I am in the right place. These guys are trained and trained well, and it is my job to see that their families see them come home tomorrow morning; everything else is secondary. It is an honor, riding in this seat. It is a chance to live up to the expectations I’ve set before myself, that the Chiefs above me have set. I may not be ready to try and convince the public that a (relatively) little SUV is a damn big deal flying down the road to a fire; as we head to your call, you can believe that there is no better place for me than to be on an actual fire engine, part of a team headed to help, making noise and organized chaos as we head your way.
What a gift to ride in this seat. What an opportunity to be given, to help those who need it. And what an overwhelmingly awesome feeling it is, making our siren sing through the mundane reality of an ordinary life, actively, loudly, storming through this moment as we were born to do. Thank you, for giving us that chance, every third day.