(Photo by Ritter Alexa.)
It's a symphony. We all fall into harmony after the initial dispatch. The radio waves are our concert hall. We know our place, the rules, the order, our time to make noise, and our time to fall in line behind the others. The duty officer responds first and receives amplifying information about the call. If words like "working fire" and "cardiac arrest" are said, the symphony gets a few more players.
Sometimes my part is to advance the hoseline into a building and extinguish the fire or find the water supply to allow that operation to be sustained. Sometimes my part is to hold someone's broken bones together while my colleagues put together a splint and the medic readies the morphine. Sometimes my part is to help the new probies and make sure they don't kill themselves while trying to throw a 16-foot roof ladder.
Arriving on the scene, we all have moments of brief, wide-eyed fascination. It's quick, as we rapidly comprehend the chaos we must calm. We pull up as flames furiously eat away at someone's home. We drive into the intersection where any number of cars have collided and have to take in the glass, metal, and blood. We key up the radio and ask for everything we can think of.
Unfazable dispatchers with their flying fingers click over the keyboard as they locate all resources needed. You need foam? The foam trailer is on its way. You have a mass casualty incident (MCI)? The MCI bus is coming. You need a tanker shuttle, aerial pieces, or increased personnel? Hold tight; we're getting it on the road to you right now. You need a helicopter? Where do you want to land it? You need more medics? Stand by. In no time at all, voices from all over the county cue up on the air, their voices strong and prepared, ready to help. You need hazmat? Give me one sec.
Music Plays On
No matter the call, the symphony plays on. Fire-police pull up with their neon-green jumpsuits and dutifully protect us as we stand in the roadway. Police pull up on scene and detain the intoxicated individual who set his house on fire while making soup. The power company, code enforcement, the Red Cross--we all have our part.
I've never responded to a major aircraft down, never had someone successfully detonate a bomb, and never been to a chemical or biological attack. I've never responded to the report of an airplane into a building only to have those buildings come crashing down and crumble the foundation of our country in the process. But I know that when that day comes for me, I will take my place in the process. I will play my part of the symphony.