“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I have believed for a long time that the hardest thing firefighters do is get up every morning and go to work, never knowing what the day might throw at us. To face that uncertainty is the one truly brave thing we do.
As firefighters we are never really sure if we’re up for the challenge, because we never know what the challenge is going to be. Facing the unknown is very stressful. And it gets worse the longer you’ve been doing this. Each year the job adds a few more what-ifs to your collection; adds a few more scenarios for your mind to conjure up unbidden in the middle of the night. This week, the events in Las Vegas added yet another.
But, it’s always very strange for us, as first responders, to be given medals and awards, or be called heroes for simply doing what we’re trained to do, no matter how horrific the circumstances. In fact, praise is often the last thing we want to hear when we feel like we tried and failed. When no matter what we did, it was never going to be enough to put things right.
Maybe it’s just me, but no matter how many awards they give us, I will never believe that dragging someone out of a burning building, cutting a family free of their mangled car, or responding to an active shooter event makes us heroes. Because we’re trained to do those things. But maybe, going back to work the next shift does! Maybe that is what the praise and the medals and the awards are for; for being willing to do the training, and gain the experience, and put in the work it takes to get yourself to that point; to the point where you can step in and handle just about anything, on or off duty. Or maybe it’s simply for showing up and being willing to try.
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
So be brave, sisters and brothers! Tomorrow you may respond to nothing more dramatic than a little old lady with the flu. Or maybe a bread-and-butter structure fire. We’re ready for those calls. But are you ready to respond to a 5-year-old whose drowned in the family pool at her own birthday party? Are you ready to initial a wind-drive forest fire in your first-due; to not go home for two weeks while it burns hundreds of homes in your community; maybe even your own? Are you ready for an event like the Boston bombing? San Bernardino? Paris? Orlando? Las Vegas? Can anyone ever be?
We can never know until it’s over, and that’s a little bit terrifying.
So to all of you who wear a uniform, go to work tomorrow and do what I already know you’re going to do… Suit up anyway. But remember to take care of yourselves. Remember, that heroes or not, being us isn’t easy. Take care of your brothers and sisters. Greet them with a hug. Smile at strangers. Train like their lives depend on it. Hold your head high. Show the world that evil may sucker punch us, but it will never win. Because together we are stronger.
Together we are stronger!
Jennifer DeShon currently serves as an Engineer/Paramedic with San Bernardino County Fire in southern California. She has been in the fire service for 23 years. She’s a Special Operations Air Rescue Paramedic, trained in Urban Search and Rescue and Tactical Combat Casualty Care.