What better day than Thanksgiving to feature a guest post from indy author Mikey Chlanda talking about true American heroes? Mike’s career as a first responder spanned 29 years, and he’s got some terrific stories to tell! His new book The Last Noble Profession: 29 Years of Kicking Down Doors and Helping People will be available in mid-December.
Backdraft was an awful movie from a firefighter’s perspective, but one line rings true. It’s towards the end, where the lieutenant is hanging onto the firefighter that was the arsonist by his hand. The arsonist was yelling at the lieutenant to let him go, and the lieutenant replied, “If you go, we go.”
We have to have that trust in our brothers and sisters. That no matter what happens to us, our firefighter family will get us out.
If you ever see a firefighter’s death on TV, you’ll see some firefighters carrying the body out. Those are his fellow brothers on the compnay he ran on. It is an unbroken tradition on the fire department that in the case of a line-of-duty death, his brothers from his fire company will bring him out. It is the saddest thing in the world, knowing that you could not save your brother.
We spend a lot of time with our brother firefighters. We sleep, eat, and spend downtime with each other just [bullcrap]ting with each other in the firehouse. Citizens see us out in public buying food for dinner. Or washing the rigs outside the firehouse. The public perception is that we just hang around the firehouse, waiting for a run.
Filmmakers and journalists can’t go where we work. We have 47 pounds of gear on, carrying twenty pounds of tools, plus dragging a couple-hundred-pound, water-filled hose. Then we go to work in a 200 to 400 degree environment in close to zero visibility. Things often go wrong and we depend on each other at fires to save each other’s lives. We trust each so much that we go into burning buildings with our brothers voluntarily, knowing that if a beam falls on us, they will drag us out or stay with us and die trying.
That trust is not easy to build up. We have to know that guy is going to be there to pull us out. You do not want to have any doubts about the person you are going into the fire with.
We’re pretty hard on new firefighters. We have to know if we can break you. Yeah, you passed the test. You took the class. But are you going to be there for me when we’re in a fire, each lugging over two hundred pounds of assorted gear, tools, and fire hose, iin 400 degree plus temperatures, five minutes left on our air supply, and the roof collapses? Can you pull me out? Can you?
If we can break you with words or practical jokes, then the fire is definitely going to break you. And we can’t count on you. Trust me, we’re going to find your buttons pretty quickly and we are going to keep pushing them to see how you react.
A fire department is just like a family. More specifically, the fire station you run out of is your extended family, and the crew you run with on your rig is your nuclear family. We always joke about the fire department being a dysfunctional family but it really isn’t. A real family may have rifts that never heal, but a fire company can’t — and doesn’t — function like that.
Don’t get me wrong — we have hellacious, knock-down, drag-out fights between ourselves. But at the end of the day, the only question left is, “Can you pull me out?”
My first fire department was the Antioch College Fire Department, nicknamed “Maples” after the dorm we lived in that was next to the fire garage. For about three years, eight of us lived there — most of us year-round. We were hard on newcomers, but once you were accepted, you were family. Thirty-five years later, we’re still very close.
The feeling grows over the years. Our shared experiences, the runs we’ve been on, and the joys and sorrows of life that we’ve known together create a deep bond. We’ve seen each other at our best, hugged each other at our worst, and know we will always be there for our brothers.
The best feeling in life is sitting on the back of the rig with a couple brothers after a righteous stop on a fire. We’re peeling off equipment, hacking the smoke out of our lungs that snuck in past our masks, blowing black chunks of God knows what out of our noses. We’re sucking oxygen out of a tank, struggling to get our breath back, thinking over the close calls. No words are spoken, but none are needed.
As Kris Kristofferson said, we may not have always beaten the devil, but we sure drank a lot of his beer for free. That, my friends, is the closest feeling in the world.
If you’d like to pre-order a copy of The Last Noble Profession: 29 Years of Kicking Down Doors and Helping People at a $10 discount, pop on over to GoFundMe right now! You can check out Mikey’s other books at his Amazon author page, here.