Thursday, 9 May 2013

Another brick in the wall...

I've always wanted to be a Fireman. Some of my first memories are of visiting fire halls and seeing the trucks, in awe of those showing me. There was no other option, it had to be. I'm not religious, but if there is such a thing as "a calling" this career is mine, loud and clear. I was born and built for this. I've spent years both preparing to apply and going through the application process. 

I've been on the job for six years now. I work in a large city in North America. Our department is a true world leader of the Fire Service. I was lucky enough to be assigned to our busiest station upon graduating from our training academy. I ran on a lot of calls, ten to twelve a day and ten to twenty on a night shift. I was loving it. Lots of fires, collisions, medical runs and everything else that you could think of. The first two years was a blur, I learnt a ton, but nothing really stuck out in my memory looking back on it now. 

That all changed one summer night almost two years to the day from graduating class. We had been busy that night running alarms and medicals, a normal night. We had returned to quarters about 0130 and some of us had just lied down to try and catch a couple hours.  I had just fallen asleep, when I was scared awake by someone shaking my legs- "WAKE UP! WE HAVE A RUN!"  It was dark still, I couldn't understand what was going on. You could tell by the way he was saying it that something wasn't good. Usually when there's a call, all the lights come on, there's tones, a voice indicates what rigs are going to what type of call and it's location. That didn't happen at first. It's not normal to have someone shake you awake. We usually have time to process what we're heading to. We didn't get that chance with this call. There was panic, which really honestly doesn't happen in this job hardly at all. One of the only times I can recall feeling that way was this night. 

It was a collision. One of the captains saw it happen right outside the station. He saw a fast blur of light go by and then heard a huge crash. He knew it was bad and came and got us all up. We ran down and got dressed. Some got on the rigs, most of us just ran down the street. I was first to the side of the vehicle that still had a semblance of a car. The rest was intwined in a pole. This car was only a quarter of the width it was meant to be. 

The driver was beat up bad. There was another young man to his right, almost on his lap. His head was leaned back and over so it was resting near the drivers shoulder. He was drowning in his own blood, his mouth full to the brim, like when you fill a water glass just to point of overflowing. There was panic in him. He was trying to move but couldn't really. His eyes were shifting back and forth trying to see all that was going on around him. There were commands being given, tools running, sirens and the driver was yelling "Get this fucking guy off of me!"  It was just four eyes that mattered right now. His eyes looked over to mine, he was barley moving and I couldn't see the rest of his body too well as it was wrapped in twisted metal. The calm he had in his eyes made everything else at the scene go quiet. He knew he was going to die. I knew he was going to die. I watched this man choke on the very thing that keeps us all alive. He took his last few attempts to take a breath but was unable. He stopped trying. It was just his eyes now, then those too went still. 

This all happened in about a minute, even though it still seems like an hour, four years later even. He's worthy of that hour at least. I carried Marty around with me as  if it was my responsibility. He didn't make the decision to drive that car like that, drunk. I was mad, furious that someone similar to me was snuffed out in a senseless way. I was livid that this guy's buddy who caused his death was too worried about getting out than his friend drowning in his own blood on his shoulder. I still have all these feelings. I dream about the call. I'm rapidly taken back to that moment looking in his eyes being the last thing he saw before slipping away. Sometimes I think about it all night not being able to sleep. 

I wouldn't know it for nearly a year or two but this was just the start of my struggles with ptsd. This was just a "tough", "bad" or "shitty" call as I've heard dozens of times, right?  It was more than that. I was in for the ride of my life and so was my pregnant wife and daughter. We ran more calls that night. I went home and watched my little one exhausted, so my wife could get to work. Then I would meet her in a parking lot or coffee shop to exchange kids and a kiss and then head back to work for another night. 

I was beginning to build the walls around me, every sleepless or stressed hour was another brick in the wall and I didn't even know it. 

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