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The Day I Was Taken to the Emergency Room
True Fire Tale by Michael J. Legeros
Every firefighter gets injured at least once. A singe here; a sprain there. Breaks and burns and cuts and tears and, of course, the ever-common lung-full of smoke. Heat problems happen in all climes, due to the stifling temperatures inside a firefighter's "turnout gear." (Before entering a burning building, nary every patch of exposed skin is covered: coat, pants, boots, gloves, and a "hood" that fits under the helmet and around the outside of the air mask.) At any larger-sized fire-- say, a single-family dwell- ing on up-- an EMS unit is usually on scene. They're there to con- duct medical monitoring-- to check the firefighters' vital signs and, when necessary, provide ice, towels, and replacement fluids. (Gatorade works particularly well.) They're on hand for the other stuff, too: the odd bangs, the minor burns, and the inevitable smoke inhalation. (One of the lesser-known truths of the trade is that air masks are used rigorously but not continuously. And then the next day your snot is sooty.) I was injured thrice during my three-or-so years of service. The first time was at the academy, just before graduation, when one of my fingers was severely strained during a playful-they-thought encounter with ten testosterone-charged recruits. That one took three months to stop hurting... Boo-Boo Number Two occurred one late afternoon in northwest Raleigh, while I was "filling in" at "Seventeen." At the time of the alarm I was resting in my assigned cubical. "Structure fire; Crabtree Valley Mall." I dashed toward the truck, in stocking feet on a freshly waxed floor and promptly busted my ass. (An injured coccyx was the diagnosis.) The blaze was a bust-- an oven at Sears that someone started without first removing the paperwork. I winced as I walked for the next few weeks... (On the accident report, when asked how to avoid this type of injury again, I wrote: "tread lightly on slick surfaces.") And then there was the time I was taken to the hospital. 'Twas my first day back from my honeymoon (!) and we were cleaning up after a small fire at a high-rise retirement home. I was outside, dis- connecting hose and, for reasons that escape me, was doing so with- out gloves. A burr of metal, a twist of a coupling, and my thumb was neatly sliced open. I grabbed a bandage, continued "rolling hose," and then notified my manager. Or, as is the case in the fire department, notified the Captain. He in turn notified *his* manager, the District Chief. (See, the chain of command goes some- thing like this: the Chief gives orders to the Assistant Chief, who gives orders to the Battalion Chief, who gives orders to the District Chief, who gives orders to the Captain, who gives orders to the Lieutenant, who gives orders-- and grief in general-- to the lowly Private.) The "DC" took me to the hospital. He was wearing a "white shirt" over dress slacks; I had a "blue shirt" on over monster-sized turnout pants. We both looked the part. Stitches were the order of the day, but not before the most painful part of the procedure: the Cleaning of the Wound. The doc/nurse/med tech unsheathed a syringe and proceeded to insert a four-foot long needle DIRECTLY INTO THE WOUND. I made a noise. In fact, I screamed, shaking the rafters or whatever passed for construction materials in the ceil- ing. What happened next was told to me later: a little boy was also there. He'd been watching for a while and, upon seeing the big, brave fireman shriek, he... began to cry. The Chief couldn't stop laughing about it later and, to this day, the story is still on the tip of his tongue whenever we cross paths at a fire scene. Ouch. Copyright 1999 Michael J. Legeros
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