This is Jeff Dill, sportscaster, truck driver, turned Firefighter-Paramedic. Jeff is also the founder of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.
This is Daniel Krahn, Captain, paramedic (and RN!) with the Mesa, AZ Fire department. Daniel started out as a volunteer, has since retired and now is dedicating his time to helping firefighters understand and cope with PTSD.
This is an article I wrote on resilience and PTSD for the National Volunteer Fire Council. PTSD is a serious issue for First Responders, but there are things we can do to help!
“Hondo, illegal burn. 99 Old Las Vegas Highway. Timeout, 1620.”
Typically, this is a call that gets maybe one or two firefighters and a brush truck rolling to the scene. Typically, we find a campfire, someone burning slash or our always favorite, a sweat lodge.
But yesterday was not typical. We responded with two brush trucks, an engine, a tender (a truck that carries water) and a med unit. All told, twelve firefighters showed up.
It was a good thing. We are in the middle of another historic drought, and yesterday the winds were thirty miles an hour, gusting to sixty.
It was a good thing we came with numbers.
(a comic relief digression: at the beginning of the rutted driveway there was a “No Trespassing” sign with a note: “Resident is Armed!” Another quarter of a mile up there was another sign: “You are now in range of my rifle.” I figured he wouldn’t shoot at us, the fire department coming to rescue his butt, but stranger things have happened.)
A careless dumping of hot ashes from the resident’s fireplace had caused a small brush fire, and the wind quickly spread the fire to the garage. When we arrived, flames were climbing the wall and had already breeched the roof.
We were, as I fervently believe, the luckiest fire department in the west. We got water on the garage fire and knocked it down and extinguished the fire burning in the grass and weeds.
Lucky. Another ten minutes and the garage would have been fully involved with fire, and the wind would have spread burning embers hundreds of yards upwind. We would’ve been faced with a monstrous wildland fire. Ten homes upwind and uphill in heavily forested piñón and juniper terrain would’ve probably been lost. A fire pushing uphill and up arroyos by sixty mile-an-hour winds is just something we can’t handle.
When we finished, fires out and we had packed up, there was a palpable sense of relief that this hadn’t turned into the “big one.” We had dodged the dragon-fire one more time.
But it’s only April, and the rains aren’t due until July.
So we’re on edge. This morning, for example, we had a car rollover in a little village in the mountains called Canadá De Los Alamos. There were no injuries. (actually, there was no patient, just a scattering of liquor bottles — the little ones— and a destroyed and cold car. Typical New Mexico)
But driving out of the quaint village I thought, what if there was a wildfire here? There is only one way in and one way out. A big fire would consume the entire village in a day, just like the Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos in 2000. People might not get out.
Driving down, all I saw were homes in the dry and tinder-like forest. Hundreds of homes. And I thought about the innocent act of dumping hot ashes in the trash. That act — that fast — and the hundreds of homes could be destroyed, and lives put at risk.
I asked myself, how long will our luck hold?
So this is the time of year where we dream about fire. We watch the weather. We scan the horizon for smoke. We are a fire department on edge.
(Photo credit Steve at Gigapic)
“Roll Over, Old Las Vegas Highway Mile Marker 8. Timeout 2:30 AM.”
Every Fire department has its Old Las Vegas Highway, that stretch of road that has seen multiple crashes.
I got out of bed, got in my car and drove to the scene, thinking the bars had been closed for just an hour or so, so maybe another drunk trying to make it home. I rolled up on the scene, one ambulance and a couple of Deputy sheriff patrol cars were there, red lights and strobes lights bouncing off the trees and asphalt. The SUV was off the road in the weeds upside-down.The driver and the passengers were already out with only minor injuries.
The Med crew took care of the patients, and we did our regular work: 360 around the car, check for leaking fluids and see if we could cut the battery cables.
That done we hung out on the highway until we were released from the scene. A lucky, no serious injuries call. Dodged another bullet
But maybe because it was the middle of the night, and I was still half-asleep, or maybe because I’ve been doing this way too long, driving back to the station in our rescue truck the movies in my mind started. Every mile marker on Old Las Vegas highway has a story. The place where the horses in the overturned trailer were killed, the mile marker where the snow angel was thrown from the car on a winter’s night and died with us. There were the four crosses on the road up a little farther and then Angela’s marker. There was the call where I was in the car with two critically injured teenagers and a paramedic sticking her head in the window and asking if I needed help. I remember her calm tone of voice as if it were yesterday. There is a cross back from the road a bit where two little kids died. My sister, a medic brought one of the surviving kids a teddy bear in ICU only to learn that he too had passed away. Oh yea, the head-on that killed two kids and we had to wait for hours for OMI to show up before we could extricate the bodies. On and on, a dozen more calls on that fucking road.
You know what I mean? The unedited movie of all those calls on that same road plays in your mind.
Sometimes when people ask me why I seem so detached, I want to show them the movie, right? But that would be cruel. So we keep it to ourselves, share it with the brothers and sisters. Thank you, guys, for being there and understanding.