Thursday, May 27, 2010

Strange but totally true

Firefighters are strange critters. Take Andrew from Toronto for example. He has a good job working for one of the biggest fire departments in Canada, yet he loves hopping a plane and flying to Thunder Bay and travelling across Northwestern Ontario instructing for the Ontario Fire College . . . at about half the pay of his normal job. He likes doing that.

Then there is Graham from Atikokan (Atikokan, by the way, shares the peripheral edge of the universe with Upsala). He shoots flies off the ceiling with rubber bands. No, I'm not kidding, or even exaggerating. Graham is a fly-killing Robin Hood. He can also stick a beer bottle to the wall using some sort of friction voodoo physics. Just ask the folks at Ignace bar, who are probably still talking about it two years later. I could write a whole blog book about Graham.

Then there is Brian, from Switch2PlanB. I'm not even going to talk about him. You'll just have to go over there and read it for yourself.

As for me, I wasn't a born firefighter. My dad is a music engraver, not a cop or a paramedic or a hose monkey. I trained horses, farmed, went to Japan to grow rice and teach English, and finally worked as a logger before stumbling through the back door of the fire service. And now, having performed my very first cat rescue, I can claim a spot amongst all the cat-saving generations of firefighters that went before me.

Except that none of the firefighters that I know rescue cats. After my cat escapade, I received lots of friendly advice from firefighters on how to deal with future feline encounters . . . chainsaws and a blast from a fire hose were two of them. At least I'm trying to be a real firefighter.

The strangest thing about firefighters is our love affair with chaos and disaster. If you are on one of those departments that get a hundred calls a day, you might be all burned-out and cynical and I-don't-care-about-going-to-calls, but even you hardline, dyed in the wool, fought-a-million-fires veterans would get edgy if you had nothing for months on end. Just think how we feel, out here on the peripheral edge of the universe, where we tallied up a total of two calls between October and March last winter. That kind of inaction is enough to drive a crazy person sane.

But fortunately spring comes, and with it comes wildland fires and vehicle crashes and truck brakes catching on fire and cats stuck in trees and . . . did I just say fortunately? FORTUNATELY? Fortunately for who? Not for the guy driving the truck or for all those unfortunate trees, and especially not for the poor kitty.

(Come to think of it, maybe the cat is fortunate. If it had got stuck in another department's tree, they would have chainsawed or hose blasted it down. Just sayin').

If there is a point (and I think there is), it would be something along the lines of firefighters might be the only breed of people that flourish when bad things happen. We go for weeks or months checking oil, and examining equipment and testing breathing apparatus and doing drills, and we slowly but surely wilt away with the humdrum, everyday stuff that we do. So when someone is having a bad day and actually needs us, and we can actually do something useful, we may stop short of thinking it's fortunate, but we are at least glad that they crashed or burned or got stuck in Upsala territory, so that we (not the guys in the next town) could put all that preparation to some use.

[Side note: Of course, there are normal guys among our ranks as well. Folks that would just as soon work their paying jobs as go muck around in breathing apparatus at a tractor trailer fire. Folks that do this purely because they care, not because they like the rush. These are the true blue volunteers that are the backbone of small communities. There aren't many left, and God help us when they pass off the scene.]

Sometimes it all backfires. We get an ugly vehicle crash and people die . . . not just die, but . . . well never mind. Or a friend's house burns to the ground and there isn't a thing we can do to save it. Or we spend all night in -35 degree weather fighting a stubborn fire, and by morning we wonder why the @#%$ we ever misuse our bodies this way.

But it all goes away, and we wake up the next day and check our pagers to make sure they are working, because you just never know.

We're a strange bunch of critters.

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence. I almost went to China to teach English. Like you, I don't think I was a born firefighter. But it's turned out to be a pretty good fit for me...and it sure beats marking up dozens of freshman comp essays with a red pen!


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