There was a time when like many others, I did not have a clue about the extensive training and dedication of our first responders. Today as a certified fire chaplain, I now know that battling structure fires is only one of many complex and dangerous situations they encounter.
The development of these courageous men and women comes not only with many hours of on the job experience, but also years of classroom instruction and continuing education. Just as in college, instructors teach with PowerPoint presentations and videos from all branches of sate and federal emergency management and along with the class work, there are weekly drills with hands-on training.
Creating practice fires and learning how to battle them or re-enacting an active shooter situation is just a small part of what they are prepared to face. Thank God for the tax revenue that provides state-of-the-art equipment for crisis situations like exposure from hazardous and chemical spills, flood rescue with boats, natural gas leaks and cave and mountain search and rescue, just to name a few.
Whether carrying someone over their shoulder while climbing down a ladder or using the hydraulic cutters and spreaders whenever there is a serious vehicle accident, they not only have the capability to extract victims but are also trained to administer emergency medical assistance that can save lives before they are transported. These are just some of the situations they face as there is not enough time or space here to list the many specialized responsibilities and resources.
Here is a true story about an EMT named Joseph who was finishing up a night shift when he walked into a doughnut shop for his nightly coffee, something he had done hundreds of times before. This time, however, his carbon monoxide detector, purchased only recently after the death of a local business owner, began going off.
He asked the doughnut shop employee if he was feeling symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. When the employee said he felt fine, Joseph was sure the device was malfunctioning. Even so, something told him to check again.
After clearing the device, he asked the employee if he could walk back to the ovens. The device confirmed this time that the entire shop was flooded with carbon monoxide. Joseph quickly evacuated the building and called his dispatcher and amazingly prevented the death of the person who was working that night.
Or what about a paramedic named Kimberly who was attending her daughter’s volleyball tournament when she noticed a woman in distress at the event. After assessing the situation, she ran around the corner of the gymnasium, where an automated external defibrillator was available, and she managed to restart the woman’s heart and save her life.
This is the level of determination and perseverance it takes to become a highly trained professional. I hope we never need them, but if we do, they are only minutes away. Here is what one veteran firefighter had to say, “Being a first responder allows us to intervene with perfect strangers on the worst day of their lives. Protecting and serving another person gives us a deeper perspective about the precious value of every life.”