There’s something so foreign about speaking with a firefighter- at least that’s what I tell myself when people ask us weird questions!
At dinner parties or playgrounds, when people find out that my husband is a Firefighter, they invariably ask him the question.
Not ‘a’ question, but the one question guaranteed to disrupt our day and the shift the energy of the room from friendly to uncomfortable.
It’s human nature I think- part of what makes us social creatures. We’re a curious bunch. And the movie industry, with it’s glorified rescues, crime movies and murder mysteries gives rise to a talking point that most people are familiar with.
But what the movies don’t show is the Firefighter and Medic team rushing to save a life- hungry people running on caffeine and thousands of hours of training and experience.
What the movies don’t show in those murder mysterious, is the aftermath of the people who worked hard to save a life- but it was beyond their control.
What the movies don’t show are the crying mother’s begging you to save a life with real sincerity- not hollywood fakery.
So what’s the worst call you’ve ever been on?
If you can use your imagination- you can likely think of some ideas.
Because the movies and books can only capture so much of what a real call looks like you simply can’t know unless you’ve seen death and destruction in real life.
There’s the comradery of a crew- once high from adrenaline now dealing with the crash of life lost.
There’s the crying family and friends- but sometimes their angry as they yell insults and cuss words- placing blame on first responders for not being fast enough or smart enough.
There’s the scene- in true goryness- vibrant eyes now dim- the shell of a person whose light is gone from this world.
There’s the drive back to the station- where Firefighters and EMS will shower off and repack the truck- knowing that they will have another call and another call- with many of them dealing with death.
Perhaps the worst calls are the one’s where Firefighters and EMS work tirelessly- against all hope to save someone- and they manage to sustain life long enough to get them to higher care- for them to pass away.
But the very worst of calls- and one’s I wont discuss in detail in case another First Responder is reading this- are the ones involving friends, family members, and children.
Why does it bother Firefighters to ask, What’s the worst call you’ve ever had?
It wouldn’t be fair to share the what without sharing the why.
There are a lot of complexities involved in calls, and trainings- many more than I could cover in one post- but there’s something ‘special’ about bringing up that worst call.
For many first responders, the worst calls involve a situation where they question how they could have ‘done better’ to change the situation. It’s one where they question everything they could have or did do- and it’s a big factor behind why I gave this token to my firefighter to remind him of his worth on those bad days.
Firefighters do not do the job for pay- but with the innate drive to do good and save people.
So when the calls and situations occur where someone couldn’t be saved (those calls where it wasn’t a natural death of old age or terminal illness) those responding naturally wonder what else they could have done.
They’ll come back to the station and double check their gear. They’ll google strategies and call up contacts to share some details to see if they missed something. When they come home, they’ll think about it for days, mumbling under their breath about ‘if they only had 60 more seconds to work’ and ‘if they hadn’t got that red light’.
And in the days and months later, the ‘worst calls’ sticks inside of someone’s brain in a form of anxiety and PTSD.
Firefighters will wonder if other calls will have similiar results- they’ll drive out of their way to avoid the scene of the call- they’ll think about the worst call when they hear a similar call from dispatch- the deceased will flash before their eyes when strangers ask about the worst call they’ve ever had.
Yes- there are many ways to deal with the aftermath of the worst call- but that doesn’t change that it will forever leave an imprint on those who responded- and that it’s in their best interest if those that meet them simply don’t ask… what was the worst call you ever had.
What can you ask a Firefighter or First Responder Instead?
Ask them about the best call they’ve ever had.
Ask them about the life they saved.
Ask then what the BEST thing is about being a Firefighter.
Ask them if they have any advice to keep you and your family safe.
Ask them if they’ve ever trained with some really cool equipment.
Ask them if they would do it all again- because they will say- absolutely. The worst calls are worth it because they get to be there for the best ones. For the life saved, for the baby born, for the family rescued just in time and the ducklings saved from the unsaveable.
Firefighters do this job- with all it’s dangers- to keep their community, YOUR community save. Please don’t disrespect them but not thinking before you speak.
And our Volunteers do this job mostly for free– think about that the next time you ask.