The Lady Speaks

Jenn’s Sunday Sermon

This post was originally scheduled for Sunday, but WordPress hates me. 🙂 Due to some glitch, I wasn't able write posts or edit drafts, (Thanks Podz for the fix!) but it's working again, so back to the show!

* and ** denote changes made since this was posted. Changes are italicized.


I planned to write about something entirely different this morning, but that was before my brother's fire pager went off around 2am and before middle-of-the-night research revealed that this week just past was 'National Volunteers Week'.

So, instead, I'm going to talk about volunteerism, specifically volunteer firefighters.

I live in a rural area, and every single fire company in the county is run and crewed by volunteers. I've been around volunteer firefighters for a long time. I started dating a guy who was a volunteer firefighter, and eventually married him. Literally in the middle of our vows, fire pagers started going off. Before we married or had kids, I'd ride along on calls, helping the auxillary pass out donuts and coffee, sandwiches and milk. Later, after the kids were born, I stayed at home, listening to the scanner for that one voice, and unable to sleep until I heard the magic words, "Returning to station."

You live with the fear that this call could take the life of one you love, and – for me – the answer was to stay awake until I knew he was safe.

After we divorced, I packed away the scanner, and learned to enjoy sleeping through the night for months at a time. Then, my brother – who is 11 years younger – went and joined his local fire company. Even though I wasn't listening to a scanner, I worried.

Now however, I've pulled the scanner out of the box in basement, re-programmed it to the new high-band frequencies, and – just last night – remembered all those old fears. Only, they're magnified about 100-fold because my sixteen-year-old son is a junior firefighter, responding to calls with his dad.

Patt - Fire School
One thing overrides that fear, and that is my pride.

Volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMS crews don't respond just to fires and motor vehicle accidents. Many fire companies also do search-and-rescue or search-and-recovery missions, as well as rope and water rescues. The volunteers who staff those companies attend training classes – usually on their own dime – to meet state certification requirements, hold company-wide training sessions and county-wide major disaster drills. They and their auxillaries hold bake sales and carnivals to raise money for equipment and apparatus.* (Note: after receiving several emails, I wanted to clarify this. Equipment mean things like hoses, spanner wrenches, axes, and pike poles that are carried on apparatus, which means the trucks.)

When you call 911 in Bradford County** (or any other county with volunteer emergency services), the people responding are coming from their homes, their workplaces, their houses of worship, their family events. They are leaving their loved ones to come to your aid.

They have seen it all, from a teenager with head injuries who crashed on an icy road to a burned toddler who was trapped in her burning home. From the senior citizen having a stroke to the drunk driver who slammed into a minivan carrying family of four. From the small grass fire to businesses ablaze in the downtown.

They do it all, at all hours of the day and night, for no pay and no reward other than an occasional, incredibly rare, thank-you. And they do it knowing that each call could be their last.

So, the next time you're in Pennsylvania and see a blue light flickering in your rearview mirror, pull as far to the right as possible and allow that volunteer firefighter or EMT to pass. It's a courtesy, but a much-appreciated one, especially for the poor souls waiting for the aid that volunteer will bring.

And remember, next time, it could be you waiting anxiously for the fire department or the ambulance to arrive.

In closing:


I Wish You Could — Unknown
I wish you could

see the sadness of a business-man
as his livelihood goes up in flames,
or that family returning home,
only to find their house and belongings
damaged or destroyed.

I wish you could
know what it is like to search
a burning bedroom for trapped children,
flames rolling above your head,
your palms and knees burning as you crawl,
the floor sagging under your weight
as the kitchen beneath you burns.

I wish you could
comprehend a wife’s horror at 3 a.m.
as I check her husband of 40 years for a pulse and find none.
I start CPR anyway, hoping to bring him back,
knowing intuitively that it is too late.
But wanting his wife and family to know
everything possible was done.

I wish you knew
the unique smell of burning insulation,
the taste of soot filled mucus,
the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear,
the sound of flames crackling,
the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke ~
sensations that I have become too familiar with.

I wish you could
understand how it feels to go to work in the morning
after having spent most of the night,
hot and soaking wet at a multiple alarm fire.

I wish you could
read my mind as I respond to a building fire.
“Is this a false alarm or a working, breathing fire?
How is the building constructed? What hazards await me?
Is anyone trapped?
Or to an EMS call, “What is wrong with the patient?”
Is it minor or life threatening? Is the caller really in distress
or is he or she waiting for us with a 2×4 or a gun?

I wish you could
be in the emergency room as a doctor
pronounces dead the beautiful five-year-old girl that
I tried to save during the past 25 minutes.
Who will never go on her first date
or say the words “I love you, Mommy” again.

I wish you could
know the frustration I feel in the cab engine,
the driver with his foot pressing down hard on the pedal,
my arm tugging again and again at the air horn chain,
as you fail to yield the right of way at an intersection or in traffic.
When you need us, however, your first comment upon our arrival will be,
“It took you forever to get here!”

I wish you could
know my thoughts as I help extricate a girl of teenage years
from the mangled remains of her automobile.
“What if this was my sister, my girlfriend, or a friend?
What were her parents’ reaction going to be when they opened the door
to find a police officer with hat in hand?

I wish you could
know how it feels to walk in the back door
and greet my parents and family,
not having the heart to tell them that
I nearly did not come back
from the last call I was on.

I wish you could
feel the hurt
as people verbally, and sometime physically,
abuse us or belittle what I do,
or as they express their attitudes of
“It will never happen to me.”

I wish you could
the brotherhood and self-satisfaction
of helping save a life,
or preserving someone’s property,
of being there in time of crisis,
or creating order from total chaos.

I wish you could
understand what it feels like
to have a little boy tugging at your arm
and asking. "Is Mommy okay?"
Not even being able to look in his eyes
without tears from your own
and not knowing what to say.
Or to hold back a long-time friend
who watches his buddy having rescue breathing done on him
as they take him away in the ambulance.
You know all along he did not have his seat belt on
~ Sensations I am too familiar with.

Unless you have lived with this kind of life,
you will probably never truly understand or appreciate
who I am, we are, or what our job really means to us



May 2, 2006 - Posted by | EMS, Firefighters, Pennsylvania, Volunteers


  1. Very humbling and sweet post, me lady! I think it, in these chaotic times, is a better post than rehashing a dull subject with which we are all accustomed… Good for you and good for the volunteers. :>)

    Comment by thepoetryman | May 2, 2006 | Reply

  2. That is worded a bit strangely after seeing it here. I mean the dull (monotonous) subject of such, the war, Bushisms, yada yada…not the volunteerism… Better?

    Comment by thepoetryman | May 2, 2006 | Reply

  3. Thanks TPM! I knew what you meant!

    Most people don’t realize this, but volunteer fire companies cannot charge for their services. Municipalities that ‘sponsor’ a fire company add their funding into the property tax rate, and non-municipal companies have member drives (like PBS) where a household can donate whatever amount they choose (say $25 a year) but unless you are ‘responsible’ for the fire (such as burning trash in your backyard during a burn ban and catching the woods on fire) you aren’t charged a cent for fire protection!

    Comment by PA_Lady | May 2, 2006 | Reply

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