People ask me what I think about when I go into a fire: nothing. I don’t think. I don’t think about what I am doing, what I could do, what I could lose, what I could gain, how I feel, why I am doing it, I just do it. I don’t stop at the door and think to myself, this could be the last breath of air I take. How could I think that? If I went around thinking I could die, I don’t think I would do anything. My hands don’t shake, my legs don’t quiver. I don’t feel my blood rushing through me. I go beyond feeling and thinking. I move like a lion attacking a pack of zebras, gracefully and without hesitation.
People ask me what it’s like to do CPR. I tell them it is horrible. Pumping up and down, over and over, it is the most digesting experience of my life. Pushing down on someone’s grandmother’s chest, in the same spot over and over is gross. I expose the chest, I mark the spot, and I push down once. I can feel the ribs crack under the pressure of my hands. I do it again, more ribs. After the first minute, my hands form a groove. I have to hold my breath because the stench of death will overtake me if I don’t. If I am lucky, this one won’t vomit all over the place. Sometimes they do that, when their lungs are weak, and the person squeezing the bag pushes too much oxygen into them. The green brown chunky liquid only dribbles out at the mouth, but it smells. The smell is the worst. I can close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere else, but the smell is what gets me.
People ask me what the worst thing I have ever seen is. I tell them I once saw a girl cry because I told her I did not want her. They press me and ask me about the accidents I have seen. I ask them which one do they want to hear about, the one where the drunk nineteen year old hit a tree, ripping the car into two pieces, six feet away from each other, with his arms and head in one half and his feet and legs in the other half. I ask them if they want to know about when I mistakenly put my hand down in the seventeen year old kid’s head, mashing his brains and broken parts of his skull between my fingers while I tried to take his friend, the driver, out of the car. I ask them if they want to know about the time I rode the engine to Hayrick Street, four hours after the accident, because the police did not have a powerful enough hose to wash the brains and mashed guts out of the street. I ask them if they want to know about the burnt bodies, the smell, the look, how they feel, what comes out of their mouths. I tell them if they want to hear about all the guts and brains and twisted metal of car accidents and gory, bloody deaths to sit down, stay for a few hours, I have seen too much.
People ask me about why I do what I do. I tell them that helping someone in their time of need is better then getting high, being drunk and having sex all at the same time. There is a tremendous swell of pride when a little girl or small boy looks in awe at the fire truck and asks to sit down inside. I tell them about the feeling of self-satisfaction I receive after putting out a fire, after subduing the flames that once threatened the neighborhood. I tell them the relationship between myself and my fellow firefighters, my closest friends. These are the people I trust my life with without even so much as a second thought. I tell them that saving a life, putting out a fire, comforting a lost soul at midnight in the back of an ambulance does more to save me then anything else ever could.
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