By Lyonel Doherty
As a volunteer or career firefighter, you see everything: horrid living conditions; nudity; death, joy, human suffering, humour and love. And everything in between.
I was a volunteer firefighter for 16 years, and I must say it was a grand learning experience full of excitement and adventure. But darn, I never did get to rescue a cat out of a tree. However, I did get to comfort countless old ladies who had shortness of breath.
I’ll never forget Mrs. B, who called 9-1-1 on a regular basis; I swear just to have us handsome guys come over at 3 a.m. to keep her company. She eventually passed away, and I never got to say goodbye to her.
As a firefighter, there are some things you never forget. Like the time a colleague and I found a strange trail in the dirt during the 2003 wildfire. It looked like something had been dragged for 100 yards. When we crested the hill we saw the source: a black bear, either wounded or dying, dragged itself until it could no more. It was very sad.
Near the end of that fire, one image became etched in my mind: a small cat sitting on a burned out stump surrounded by blackened shrubs. The cat survived, but not much else did.
As a fireman, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing a house bathed in flame with little you can do to save it.
Or arriving to a call for a full cardiac arrest, hoping this will be the day you will save that person with the defibrillator, but it doesn’t happen. Or worse, performing CPR for the family’s sake, knowing the patient isn’t coming back.
I once stepped into a rental cabin where, I kid you not, the entire floor was covered with months-old grocery bags filled with rotting food. Sadly, the hoarder had been dead for some time.
Another time we were called to a residence where a female was suffering chest pains. We asked her what she was doing prior to this incident and she hesitantly explained that she was having sex with her husband. The questioning stopped there.
Firefighters often assist police in their investigations. Perhaps the most interesting call we received was treating a fellow who had a bullet hole in his leg. The guy was on the road while two or three police officers were waiting for paramedics to arrive.
Firefighting has changed in so many ways since I started. Our first responder vehicle was a big old panel van with no seat belts in the back. We bounced around like hail stones on a tin roof. Thank goodness we didn’t have to hang off the back of fire trucks like they used to. Although that would have been cool.
Training requirements have also changed significantly, with fire departments now having to meet higher standards by following a comprehensive “playbook.”
I miss those simpler days, and the camaraderie you get after doing a good job for someone in dire need of help.
My hat is off to firefighters in Oliver and Willowbrook for the excellent job they do.
They’re not heroes. They’re just men and women who want to make a real difference in their community. It’s in their blood. It’s what they do.