Writings: Community Paragons by Beth Bowser

Community Paragons Click here for a printer friendly version of this page

Originally picked by the magazine The Gonzo Press.

“People lose their freaking minds driving through an accident site! I mean, I'm wearing a reflective vest and a shirt saying Fire Department under that while standing in the middle of the road with a bunch of cones around me in the intersection clearly showing 'THIS WAY IS BLOCKED' but these idiots think I set up an obstacle course for them? They wend their way through the cones and zip past me, conveniently blaring music so they cannot hear me screaming at them that the road is closed ahead?” My husband ranted. He's a member of a volunteer Fire Department and had just been out helping direct traffic around an accident.

It took us over a year, but my husband and I finally bought a house. Technically, it was closer to five years since we started looking, but about a year since we picked the city we wanted to move to. Both my husband and I work remotely so where we lived didn't really matter as long as we could get a fast internet connection. Ultimately we picked where we did, a small city an hour out from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as it's very near my husband's hometown and many of his extended family still live within easy driving distance.

Our first must-have of our relocation done, that of low cost of living, we moved on to find meaning in our lives. My husband joined the Volunteer Fire Department as it's a quick five minute walk from our new home and he had been considering joining for a while. It wasn't worth the hassle to join while we were changing apartments, but now, having set down roots, it was the perfect time! Fire companies are not completely new to me as my grandfather was a Detroit fire fighter until injury forced him to retire early. He rarely spoke of his firefighting, potentially a common theme! The only takeaways I remember are that you should never smoke in bed nor park in front of a fire hydrant!

Some people erroneously think fire departments are only called for fires. As I was writing this up, my husband's Fire Department, plus four more stations were called out to a basement fire. As it oddly happens sometimes, no one could find the fire or even a heat signature with a thermal camera. All that was present in the basement was smoke and the scent of burning. As odd as it may seem, fires are not the most common calls. In fact, it's a toss up as to which type of call my husband goes on more frequently. If the siren goes off at 6am, it's just as likely to be a rush hour accident as a cooking mishap! I don't believe they have had a fire alarm turn out to be an actual fire since he joined and I hope it never happens! Still, you cannot be complacent as that's how our area lost a pizza place before we moved here. The fire alarm was constantly going off to the point where the firefighters just didn't care to bother showing up. At the sixth time you hear the siren go off for the same place, thinking of driving over to the station, getting your gear on, sitting in the open air truck with it possibly being 30 degrees or less outside, knowing it would be around an hour before you could get back to what you were doing previously... Yeah, I do not blame them for sometimes having better things to do. Businesses, if you have a touchy or faulty fire alarm, get it fixed please. Your business will be all the better for it!

Unfortunately, car accidents are incredibly common. Sometimes the firefighters are called only to direct traffic until a tow truck can move a disabled car out of the road like the adventure mentioned at the beginning. It is necessary for them to appear at some accidents because of the potential of car fires and entrapments. Our Fire Department recently had a call for that. A man was moving his lawn with a large commercial mower when the treads slipped on wet grass, upending the driver and trapping him under it. The firefighters were able to stabilize the mower before safely moving it off the man. He had a dangerously low heart rate from being trapped upside down, but he was able to recover nicely!

One thing I didn't even know before is that you can call your fire department if your basement floods! They have industrial pumps and can drain all the water out very quickly and likely do it for free! Keep that in mind if you are in a high flood plain area or have a sump pump or pit that could fail. Just please show your fire department some love for the unflagging service they do for you!

Another common reason why fire departments are called is for medical emergencies. Firefighters are required to be trained in first aid to be certified so the fire department can be called for medical emergencies when ambulances are unavailable or too far away, which may be more common than you think. One evening, my husband got one of these medical emergency calls and the truck left with only two people as the app they get the call info from said it was a likely heart attack. You cannot waste time waiting if there is a medical emergency to get more people. The ambulance was on its way and when they arrived, they heard the ambulance coming, but immediately went into action after being unable to find a pulse. They attached the AED, Automated External Defibrillator, to the patient and began chest compressions. The chest compressions had to be very strong, so strong that they heard ribs break initially and. in later compressions, heard the bones scrape against each other. Its an awful enough sound to make you want to stop, but alive with broken bones is better than never waking again because the sounds were too nauseating! Eventually, with the two firefighters and a third who drove up later, plus the paramedics from the ambulance crew, they were able to take turns giving compressions and got a steady, but low, pulse. They were ultimately able to detach the AED and transfer him first to the ambulance and then to the hospital. You may not realize it, but performing CPR is incredibly exhausting. My husband returned from that call dripping in sweat and had sore arms for a couple days after.

My husband did not like it when I called him a hero after that, but I did. I consider him just as much a hero as the 911 first responders especially as he's working a normal full time job and volunteering his free time and money, to be and stay certified, all to help others. While I am proud of him and his accomplishments, I also feel sometimes that I married the Fire Department rather than just him. He is often gone to the fire hall due to calls or fundraisers or training or the weekly meetings or just random tasks the chief asks his firefighters to do. Thankfully, volunteers get fewer calls than career fire fighters mainly because of the fact that they cover smaller territories and therefore fewer homes and people, but volunteers do the same important work! Additionally, volunteers are always on call and should always be ready to drop what they are doing at a moment's notice. I can't even remember how many times our dinners have been cut short as the siren sounds and off he goes. He does not toot his own horn. He tells his friends and co-workers the bare minimum of what he does. I, and the other firefighters and their loved ones, may be the only ones who know the truth and they do not brag as far as I know.

Our Fire Department and most smaller cities in PA are all volunteer. The only money received is by donations from homeowners, hall rentals and events the Department puts on like bingo, gun or purse bashes, and sales of food or grants from the state. The money raised is earmarked to pay the upkeep of the fire hall and trucks including the gas they blow through to drive the trucks and pump water. Honestly, everyone who volunteers their time, their ability and their hard earned money to keep everyone's homes and person safer is wonderful person! Give your first responders some love by helping! If you cannot volunteer as a fire fighter, like I cannot due to medical reasons, give your time and help out around the hall by cleaning the building, or moving the lawn, or assisting in the fundraisers, or help by gifting money so they don't have to spend as much of their free time to do so many fundraisers. Both your local firefighters and their spouses will thank you for it! My husband has checked off the finding meaning in life task. He now gets satisfaction and meaning in helping the community and comradery with the members of the fire hall!