What we saw was horrible. There was a destroyed motorcycle and body parts.
Greg and I stood next to each other.
“Fuck,” I said.
I looked at Greg, “You take patient care? I’ll take triage?”
He nodded, “Got it.” He walked over to the first patient, a guy laying on the road, missing a leg. Greg yelled to Dan, “Dan, see if you can find this guy’s leg! I think I saw it by the white pickup they hit.”
My fellow volunteers are people whom I care deeply about. But I would never known them were it not for the department.
We are born-again Christians, ministers, ex-military, gun-toting NRA guys, lawyers, artists, contractors, Republicans, Independents, Democrats, the uber-liberal, gay, straight, radical feminists, and what I am sure was the only anarchist-socialist-atheist firefighter in the state.
Yet for decades, we’ve been close as a department. Even in the last few years, when the country seems to be tearing apart, we take care of each other. We enjoy being together and know we are serving — together — an important purpose.
It is the work that bonds us.
Standing there in the middle of that chaos of the motorcycle-truck collision, with people yelling and body parts strewn across the highway, Greg and I knew we had to solve this together, we had to go through this and come out the other side with each other. These are among the most honest and ruthless moments humans can share.
They are honest because in those times we are vulnerable and scared. They are ruthless because the decisions we make together in those moments are life or death — save someone or watch them die.
Our work — a privilege — transcends politics. Fires are apolitical. Our work transcends whatever faith you put your faith in. On the fire ground, the crazy conservative has my back and I — an insane liberal — will do all I can to save his. The atheist has the Catholic who watches out for the Baptist telling the agnostic to be safe.
It is not simply a catch phrase that firefighters think of the vocation as a Brother and Sisterhood.
How does this inform us as a nation divided? I celebrate human differences. But we can and must come together when we need one another: when the barn needs to be built, the car rescued from the flood, the child caught jumping from the burning building.
Most of us, even in our fragmented world, yearn for the kind of connectedness and love that exists when people come together to do vital work. We are here, after all, to do important and meaningful things. We are at our best when we do it together. Fire Departments prove that every day.