The following submission comes from Tom Howard who serves as an ILFFPS Team member, and is also a fire apparatus engineer with the City of Evanston FD. Tom is working with Cody Todd on the Chaplain’s division for our group. Thanks, Tom for sharing your story.
As I am sure most of us are aware we all have those times in our careers when we think to ourselves, “Never had that happen before.” With my paid on call time and 22 plus years as a career fireman I have had many of those thoughts over the years. But this one was different, way different.
So many of us work with the never give up attitude in the firehouse and it is even greater on the fire scene. The idea that we can never show a sign of weakness lest we be judged not big enough, strong enough, or tough enough to do “the Job.” I definitely fit into that category of, never say I quit!
But there I was, after finishing the primary search on the first floor, and then opening up the roof. My company was given their third assignment, “Go in and start overhauling the kitchen.” The two story house that had been converted into two apartments was still charged with enough smoke and heat to require going back on air.
Being a good soldier, I tightened up the mask and clicked on the regulator. As I drew in my breath to open the regulator I was overwhelmed with exhaustion, feeling that I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms above my shoulders. I then became aware that I was breathing very heavy and feeling as though I needed more air than I could take in.
It was in that moment I felt it. Not pain, not an ache, but yet there it was, this weird feeling. My chest, huh, I never felt that before. So there I was, exhausted, out of breath, and feeling for lack of a better term, not right. But wait, I’m a good soldier, I’m indestructible, and I get the job done. What do I do now?
I called it. I tapped out. I told my Captain I had to step out. I was done and needed to take a break. With that I walked out and pulled my pack and coat off and sucked the warm water spraying out of a hose coupling. It took a good 10-15 minutes for me to regain my energy but it took a couple of days to recover from the night.
All too often as fireman, we get a false sense of invisibility that makes us push through anything we are confronted with, thinking we need to endure whatever confront us. In my time in the fire service I have watched too many of my co-workers, my friends, and the people I call my second family go down because they likely refused to stop for whatever reason. I wonder now if they had felt any of the warning signs.
I believe that like so many things in life we are given warnings. Was this my warning shot? What am I being warned about? Is it time for me to slow down? So many questions but one obvious answer, I need to step up to the challenge of being human. Just like most other things in life we all have an expiration date. There is only so much I can handle, both physically and mentally.
Just as I needed to tap out from the physical demands from that fire so I must also tap out when the mental demands become more than I can bear. For the fire, command just sent in the next company to take over and the job got done. After the fire was out and the next day as I thought about what just happened I am now confronted with the reality of my time fighting the fight is limited.
What do I do now is the question that haunts the depths of my mind, in places I don’t want to go. We all have that place even if we don’t admit it, it there and it effects how we live our life. For me, my saving grace is close friends that understand me and what I do. Even more that my circle of friends is my Christian faith. I know with all my heart that the Lord has brought me to this place for His plan. I will rest in knowing that He knows what is next for me. In the mean time I will continue to serve and grow in understanding of my limitations.
If you can relate in any way but feel alone in the mix of your situation please reach out! ILFFPS is probably the best resource I have seen for firefighters in my years in the service. Please don’t go it alone.