How do they do it?

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Well-known member
Jun 16, 2010
Springfield, Mo.
Years ago I was a small town marshall.  Not much happened beyond a noisy dog, a loud radio, fireworks and boys squealing tires.  One afternoon I heard a fire alarm report.  Being also a member of the volunteer fire dept, I responded and happened to be the first on the scene.  Sure enough, the rural house was nearly fully engulfed in flames.  I thought no one was at home at first.  Then I spotted someone lying in a chaise lounge near the burning house.  I shielded my face and managed to grab the lounge and drag it away from the searing heat.  Once safely away from the fire I had time to examine the person in the lounge.  It was a naked man about 65 years old.  I knew him a bit, but not close.  He was dead and I called the County Sheriff as I could not tell what had happened although it appeared to have been suicide.  Later, it was reveiled he had shot himself in the head with a .25 automatic pistol.  It was found nearby, but its proximity to the body had been disturbed by my moving the body.  Seeing this dead man in this condition was a little upsetting even though we weren't close friends.

You may wonder why I've written this.  I wrote it thinking of the First Responders to the gruesome scene at Shady Hook elementary school.  I cannot say I would have had the professionalism and composure to do the job they faced.
Thanks for that post Tom. I've never been a first responder, but I too wonder how these folks do it.

We've called 911 numeous times for elderly neighbors in less traumatic situations and, when I've thanked them for responding, they always reply in a very modest tone "we're just doing our job". When their boss, the County Fire Chief recently gave a talk to our club, I caught him in the parking lot afterwards and let him know what I thought of his staff and the way they respond. He replied, quite modestly, "they're all professionals and they're doing their job".
I was on ambulance squad volunteer. You deal with it at the time and stay focused on your training.

I had BAD nightmares when I started chantix about some of the things I've seen. I have been glue to the news about this since the first reports came in. I don't know if I could handle this much at once. The responders will have issues with this for a LONG time. :'(

I cannot imagine - - -
Interesting Robert. When my Dad retired early from the coal mines (he was a fireman) due to pneumoconiosis (aka black lung disease), he drove an ambulance for a number of years, before he started a new career. This was before and shortly after I was born. In later years, he never talked about any of the situations he'd responded to.
Tom said:
In later years, he never talked about any of the situations he'd responded to.

I can understand in his time they were called meat wagon for a reason. They were load and GO to the hospital.
They were load and GO to the hospital.

Actually, he was a trained medical responder, but this was in the UK; Things might have been different here in the US. At the time, the service was run by St. John Ambulance, the primary organization for first aid training and service in the UK. In the 1800's it was a volunteer service, and more recently (20th century) has reverted to its volunteer role.
I have watched airplanes returning from battle crash due to battle damage with resulting deaths but in my position you never thought of them as people. I guess if I really thought about it I couldn't have done the job.  I have to appreciate the first responders. I have a daughter who is a Metro-Dade police officer and I know I couldn't do her job.
We have first responders in our family.  My deceased brother, Ray (always called Butch in the family) retired as a Division Chief for the Monterrey California City Fire Department.  His son, Jon, currently serves with the City of San Jose CA Fire Department.  (Not a fun place to be.)  Jon's wife Jenny, served with the Carmel Valley, CA Fire Department and has just recently graduated from the San Francisco CA Fire Academy.  She is now assigned to SFFD Engine 29.  They call it "big line 29" because the district borders a bunch of busy fire areas near the ballpark/south mission area.  If you ask any of them how they do it, they will respond "just doing my job".  They are, truly, heroes.


That's awesome ;D. Here in the states it took a long time to get the ball rolling. Funny thing is your dad could hop right back in a rig and have no trouble using most of it today. Basic first aid and EMT training has not  really change a whole lot over the years. I tried to keep up with my license but life happens so now most of mine is patching the kids from bumps and bruises.
The first class I taught for the local community college was the next-to-last class in a fire science degree program.  Yes, I taught "physics for firefighters" at the main firehouse.  On any given night 1/3 of my students were on duty.  When the alarm rang, we would keep going with the 2/3 of the class who didn't respond.  When we heard the firefighters returning, we would take a break to transition everyone back into the class.  One night, the firefighters had lost a child in a house fire.  While my whole experience led to a whole new level of respect for the men and women who suit up and ride off to protect life and property, this night took the respect to yet another level.  They are professionals, for sure.  However, they are also human beings who care enough about total strangers to risk their own lives daily.
Thanks Margi, and thanks to your family members for what they do.

His son, Jon, currently serves with the City of San Jose CA Fire Department.  (Not a fun place to be.)

The husband of my old boss' admin was a Fire Chief in San Jose. After telling him a story (below), he told me that he'd issued flack jackets to his crews, but took them away because they became the targets of shooters.

One of the "breakfast club" members at a marina in Stockton worked for the Stockton FD and lived aboard his boat at the marina. One day I naively asked him if there were "good and not so good" areas in Stockton. He explained "We're trained to save lives, and go places the Stockton PD refuse to go; They stay out, while we go in".
I too salute the first responders. They have to completely focus on the task and put their emotions on hold. For a time I worked in a snowmobile/bike shop that was owned by the towing company next door. When it was slow I would take a tow truck to deal with stalls, illegal parks etc. I remember the first time I went with a senior driver to attend a wreck on the highway. He told me it wouldn't be pretty and just concentrate on doing the job at hand. If I had to puke in the ditch afterward go ahead, nobody would think the less of me for it. We had to separate the vehicles for the recovery. :(
I worked 25 years in the City of Los Angeles, most of it in some of the most violent areas in the country. So I have seen some stuff that hard to imagine.  But you can never prepare yourself for a scene like the one in CT.  At the time, you don't have time to react, you just do your job. It's later on that you have a tough time dealing with the images that you carry around for years. 

Tom said:
"We're trained to save lives, and go places the Stockton PD refuse to go; They stay out, while we go in".

That is an interesting comment Tom.  I won't second the guess the guy, but in LA it works quite the other way around. LA Fire won't enter a scene (unless it a fire) until it has been cleared by the PD.  The only thing I ever shied away from in my career was running into a burning building.  The blue wool didn't give much protection from 200 degree heat. 

But we also had a strong brotherhood with the fire dept in LA.  A lot of times the only one that had your back when a incident was going to crap was a guy in the big red truck holding an axe........
Marty, that 'breakfast discussion' was a long time ago, but the words stuck with me, and I've repeated them numerous times, including to various fire chiefs. It surprised me when I heard it, but the guy sounded quite convincing.
We had a neighbor lady beside our first house.  I guess she had lived there for years with her mom and she died.  She worked for years but they said she had only one friend and she died.  After that she went downhill.  I took her to a bus one time to go visit some distance relatives, I guess they put her back on it pretty quick and sent her back.  She never was quite right.

One day the elderly man across the street came over and asked me to go in the house with hime, he said he could see her through the door on the floor.  We tried to turn her over and saw the small gun under her plus she was stiff.  She had shot herself in the forehead, just a tiny hole, not even any blood and had killed herself.  I hadn't thought of that in years.  It didn't remind me of the children being shot but what mental illness and loneliness could do. She wasn't someone you could talk to at all, I had rarely if ever seen her.  To me that was the saddest thing I've ever seen.

There are so many people with mental issues out there but most don't try taking it out on others, they generally just hurt themselves, I don't understand what has changed in society for them to do some of the things they do now.
Back during the 80s I was a Uber scuba diver on the Ventura County Underwater Search and Rescue Team. I had a sheriffs badge and everything. So we were on the scene even before the "first responders" were there. One of the things we were trained in was how to put a body into a body bag underwater. We were told to be very careful because we could not pull on a limb too hard or it might come off if the body had been underwater for any period of time. Well I am the type of guy who hates the sight of blood or anything medical. Fortunately I was never called upon to work with a dead body, but if I would have been called upon I would have had no problem performing my duties. We were professionals trained to do a job and if we were needed we would do the job. Our training would kick in and we would do the job on autopilot. And then later we could get sick about the job in the comfort of our own homes.


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Back in the late 50's when I was in school, I drove a medium sized tow truck, with double booms in Burlingame, San Mateo, CA at night and on weekends. In those days the "Jaws of Life" and gas powered cutters were not invented yet. On several occasions I had to set up cables through "snatch" blocks and pull wrecks apart to get the folks out. It wasn't fun, but it had to be done.

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