Realization, Recognition, and Mental Preparedness

Everyone has those seminal moments in their career when they realize that this job is for real. I have two that stand out, immediately, as I pen this editorial. The first was my very first run on the fire department—yes, my very first. I responded for a rollover on the freeway and discovered a van that was on its roof on the side of the road full of a large family and friends who were returning from a vacation. There were numerous people ejected and others trapped in the van. I arrived with four people and, being a volly department, we were told we were it until the next town got there. We did our best to triage the patients, and many had serious injuries. The father of the family gave us the number of patients, and we accounted for all of them except one, a small child who was a friend of the family along for the trip. We searched the ditches and the area around the scene, and no one could find the kid. I was inside the van rendering care to the mother who was still trapped and almost simultaneously to the other two people inside the van, and I felt the chill and realization that we had an idea where the kid was—under the roof of the van. As we poured out of the van and looked under the roof, we thought we saw the back of a shirt, but the van was so crushed and sitting directly on its roof. We had no air bags and had to wait for the neighboring department to bring theirs. Once they arrived, our suspicions were correct: The child was under there the entire time.

The other moment came later in my career, as I had responded to countless other runs since that day and was aware of the seriousness of this job and my responsibility for it and us. I was a covering captain and was working in a truck company for the day, and we received a response for a fire in a 2½-story private dwelling in the late evening hours, after an uneventful day up to that point. We were the second-due truck and went above the fire to conduct the primary search, and we followed the second-due engine up the stairs. The second floor was thick with smoke, and we immediately went to work locating any extension and potential victims. As we made our way around, we came on the soles of two feet attached to a female victim sitting against the couch. As we began attempts to remove her, I noticed something wasn’t right as I buried the lens of my face piece up to her. That same chill I had more than 20 years ago came back as I realized that this girl had been stabbed repeatedly—so much so that the knife was still embedded in her as the killer broke the knife off in her while murdering her. I told the crew not to move her as I continued the search, dreading what I knew I’d likely find as there were kids’ toys in the living room. I found what I was dreading in the bathroom as there were two kids with bags duct taped over their heads with their hands bound. I removed my glove and found that the kids’ skin was still warm and that this likely happened just before the call for the fire came in. I grabbed both kids, had my firefighters continue the search with the engine, and made my way outside with the kids over my shoulders.

The point of both stories is not to be melodramatic or gratuitous with my experience. Rather, it is to prove a blunt point: This job is for real—all the time. While the first example in my editorial showing that triage and scene size-up are important and the second illustrating that arson to cover a murder are not exclusive experiences to any part of the world, they’re but two of the types of scenarios you’ll encounter over your career that remind you of the seriousness of the profession. I often think of both runs, and they both remind me that Day One is the time to be ready, not later. Regardless of your experience, you will be charged as a probie with responding to the same incidents as a 30-year veteran. Time on the job and what you’ll get out of an incident are not mutually exclusive.

This month in FireRescue, we bring you several ways to be recognition primed and mentally prepared for the unbelievable things you will see and do in your careers. Nicola Davies is perhaps one of the foremost experts on preparing yourself to be ready and succeed. This month, she discusses the need to be ready to understand the realization and be able to make that split-second decision. Davies covers the spectrum from call takers to those showing up to the door and why all need training and screening in being able to make rapid judgments based on what’s in front of them, that second. Jason Gallimore describes the art of staging to potentially violent situations and why it’s the new size-up.

See What's Inside the October Issue of FireRescue Magazine

We all know the seriousness of the runs that we go on, but complacency and experience tend to numb our response psyche until we get that “one” run in a blue moon that brings us back to reality. This is a good thing, and they often come at the times in our careers when we most need them. I still have a few years left in the firehouse, and I am certain that one is just over the horizon, one day. It is for you, too.

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October 2017
Volume 12, Issue 10