Archive for the ‘EMS’ Category

At the annual banquet for my volunteer fire department last week, I was both honored and amazed to receive my 15-year service stripe. 2017 marked 15 years of volunteerism and endless learning about fire, rescue and EMS operations for me – but those years have also taught me lessons in brotherhood, loss, service, upheaval, fear, bravery, disenchantment, persistence, change, frustration, giving, and surviving.

Here is what I *thought* fire service would be: 9474973637_cb6f92dcc0_b












Here is what I *hoped* fire service would be:  firefighters










Here is what the fire service really *is*: moe-larry-curly-fire-pole








And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. But, seriously, to the men and women that I have had the honor of serving with for the last 15 years, thank you for all that you do. And thank you for letting me serve beside you.


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Last weekend was my once-yearly trek to the EMS conference in the boondocks. Last year I learned to birth a robotic baby, this year’s highlight was watching my good friend Jay, who 6 years ago was battling cancer, stand up strong and confident and present on professionalism in fire and EMS services.

Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Jay. He is my ex-husband’s best friend (they grew up together and have the war stories to prove it) and I met Jay and his family about 10 years ago. He is now a paid firefighter/paramedic in Fort Myers, Florida and teaches at the local fire academy and the high school votech program. He was diagnosed in October 2005 with Burkitt’s type non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a blood disease so rare that only about 100 people are diagnosed each year. Jay, his loving wife Rhonda, and their six wonderful children fought the disease for over a year.  I have learned a lot from Jay – how to deal with the hand that your dealt no matter how unfair it is, how your attitude can effect the way your battle goes, how important it is to be courageous, how good people will receive good support. Quiet dignity and courage are the two best ways I can think of to describe Jay – and I struggle every day to live up to that example.

Jay and Rhonda both have been wonderful to me through the course of our friendship and my divorce. Despite what could be expected in terms of loyalty, they have not walked away from being my friend – like so many others have. They are at the end of the phone line or the Facebook message when I need them. I am grateful for that.

This EMS conference is now one of the most difficult events for me in my post-marriage life. I have to gird my emotional loins [on a side note, what a greatly colorful phrase, just saying] to attend. This conference is one of the few things my ex-husband and I ever did together. The fire service (along with baseball) was one of the few shared interests we had – and so we did things like this as a couple. And this particular conference was and is always filled with our mutual friends and fellow fire/EMS providers. For those of you who aren’t in the fire service, it can tend to be a very tight knit, close community. Which, when the shit hits the fan, is the best thing in the world – you know that it is your friends and pseudo-family members who are going to come to your aid. But, when your life has fallen apart, it also means that they are ALL going to know about it – and when your ex is also a beloved member of that same pseudo-family, it creates an abondanza of awkard moments. None of your mutual friends want to refer to The Breakup, yet they all know (or think they know) what really happened.

The flashbacks are staggering, those moments when you time travel back to happier days, when you can forget that things have changed. When you run into an old friend who doesn’t know you’ve divorced or you come out of a class and want to share your new knowledge with your life partner. When you go through your skills evaluations and want to celebrate your successes with your husband like you used to. I know that I’m not the first to experience this – those moments of forgetfulness are probably pretty common for anyone who has suffered a loss – but they still twist the knife of grief. I am haunted by the ghosts of lost friends, sad memories, and a firm place in the support system of the local EMS community – no longer can I consider myself a full member of the team because I have lost half of who I was. And the ghost of the Ex lurks around every corner, waiting to slam into me – will he be there? Will he come to the conference and will he bring his new woman? Rationally, you ask yourself – why do you worry if he appears or what he does? Yet emotionally you worry at every moment about the ghosts of him will come out to haunt your present.

So this year’s conference, with Jay as one of the keynote speakers, was one of the most difficult yet. I adore Jay – see the above description – but I also can’t ignore the fact that he is one of my ex-husband’s best friends and has been for over 30 years. How to greet a good friend who, understandably, has loyalties to the man who destroyed my life? How to face a friend who has probably heard every bad thing that my ex can construct about me? How to look in that friend’s eyes and not beg for forgiveness for not having been good enough for his buddy?

The good news is that I learned a lot at the conference. Not just the practical skills-based knowledge on pharmacology and airway management or the new technology for battling ‘dirty war’, not just the steps for a good radio consult with the trauma center or about the protocol updates in Maryland EMS. I learned that I am truly a different person now than I was before. I am damaged goods, yes, but I am also able to stand straight and hold my head high. to ignore the whispers of gossip and to make jokes about the bumpy road I’ve travelled. I am not better for the experiences of the last 2 years – but at least I am stronger.

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In looking up some statistics and photos for my September 11th musings, I stumbled upon the biographies of a man that I have come to develop a very strong admiration for. I don’t know how, in the massive media coverage following the attacks, I managed to miss hearing the buzz about this now-iconic figure: Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. I

Father Mychal Judge

want to share with you a little more about what I have discovered of this man in the last few weeks; I think this extraordinary human being needs a small extra bit of eulogizing.

Father Judge, ordained as a Catholic priest and Franciscan monk in 1961, grew up in Brooklyn the son of two Irish immigrants. Serving in various parishes around the northeast, Father Judge took special interested in the plight of the homeless in the larger cities. Having become an alcoholic in the 1970s and admitting his addiction in

1978, Father Judge knew the struggles that the homeless and addicted faced every day. He also spent quite a bit of time ministering to the gay/lesbian population and those suffering from AIDS; following his death a few of his friends and associates revealed that he identified himself as gay, as a matter of orientation and identity and not as a matter of practice since he was a celibate priest. Very wisely (in my opinion), he asked of Rome’s anti-gay teachings, ” “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?!”.  Ever the champion of the underdog, Father Judge specifically reached out to those that most needed his love and kindness!

In 1992, Father Judge was appointed chaplain of the FDNY. As chaplain, he offered encouragement, prayers, and spiritual interventions at fires, rescues, and hospitals. He counseled firemen and their families, performed weddings, funerals, baptisms, and hospital visits for ‘his’ firefighters. He truly was accepted as one of the FDNY’s own; his Irish roots (and work to bring peace to Ireland) and his loving, jovial charisma made him a natural fit in the firehouses around the city. As biographer Mychal McNichols noted, “His whole ministry was about love. Mychal loved the fire department and they loved him.” To say that the most stalwart and macho group of firemen in the world loved him and accepted him, with all of his liberal social teachings, is surely a remarkable testament to the kind soul that he was! As Father Judge once said, “The firefighters ask me to bless them. But the truth is I feel blessed by them.”

Father Judge was a dyed-in-the-wool first responder. In his eulogy of Father Judge, Father Michael Duffy, OFM remembered that  “…he loved to be where the action was. If he heard a fire engine or a police car, any  news, he’d be off. He loved to be where there was a crisis, so he could insert  God in what was going on. That was his way of doing things.”  At his last official mass at FDNY Engine 73/ Ladder 42 (Bronx) on September 10, 2001, Father Judge gave the following homily:

You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No
matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is
calling you to, but God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.
God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other…

We love this job, we all do. What a blessing it is! It’s a difficult, difficult job, but God calls you to do
, and indeed, He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.

In an interview in 1992, Father Judge rhetorically asked “I wonder what my last hour will be. Will it be trying to help someone, trying to save a life?” Little did he know the thousands of lives he would touch in the final moments of his life. Early on that bright morning of September 11, 2001, he rushed from the friary at Saint Francis of Assisi Church to the scene of the World Trade Center attacks. He was among many pastors, priests, and rabbis that had run to the aid of the people pouring into the streets – but he knew that his first priorities were his firefighters. Video of some his last moments (purpotedly shot by documentary filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet) show him praying fervently before he headed inside the building to minister to injured firemen and administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last  Rites.

As Father Judge rushed into the North Tower with firefighters, Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stated that he called out, “Father Mike, pray for us!” and that Father Mychal responded, “I always do! I always pray for you!” Because of his official status with the fire department, he was the only clergy allowed inside the building and was surrounded by people needing help as death rained down around them. According to biographers Ford & Daly, when commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters still trapped inside saying, “My work here is not finished.” Between 9:50 and 9:55 am, Father Judge climbed up to the mezzanine attempting to reach some injured firefighters. Seeing dozens of jumpers crashing onto the plaza outside, he is reported to have cried out fervently and repeatedly, Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

Father Mychal Judge was struck and killed at 9:59 AM when the South Tower collapsed and sent concrete flying through the North Tower lobby at speeds of over 100mph. He is officially listed as Victim 0001 of the September 11th attacks – #1 only because his was the first body recovered and autopsied (the first victims, in reality, were the passengers and crews of the airplanes and the occupants of the buildings).

What happened next was truly an amazing human moment on that day of horror. A NYPD lieutenant, digging himself out of the rubble, found Judge’s body and assisted by two firemen and two civilian bystanders carried it out of the North Tower lobby to nearby St. Peter’s Church. This remarkable and touching event was captured in the documentary film 9/11 (author’s note: truly one of the best documentaries ever made, everyone should see it in order to truly grasp that historic day)  and on film by Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton. This photo is one of the most disturbing and iconic images to come out of the tragedies of 9/11. Father Judge’s ashen lifeless face stands in stark contrast to the lieutenant, firefighters, and bystanders who are steadfast in their mission to carry his body to safety.

As Father Duffy said in his eulogy, “The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they  didn’t want to leave it in the street. They quickly carried it into a church and  not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the  body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they  placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked  God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.”

Father Judge’s funeral was held on September 15, 2001 and was attended by over 3,000 mourners. Former President Clinton, in attendance at the funeral, said that Judge’s death was “a special loss. We should lift his life up as an example of what has to prevail … We have to be more like Father Mike than the people who killed him.”

This amazing human being is now being considered for sainthood and I must say that, even though I’m not Catholic, I would support this wholeheartedly.  And while he may never pass the various tests to enter the Catholic canon of saints, I believe that wonderful man is looking down from Heaven to continue protecting his firefighters and his congregants. He has, in my Protestant mind, already fulfilled his obligations. I cannot think of more saintly acts than to spend your life in servitude to the human race and to lay down your life in order to help them find spiritual peace in the last moments. Rest in peace, Father Judge, and thank you for teaching us about true love and absolute service for others!

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So, in addition to the freak earthquake that struck our area earlier in the week, the big news in our area of the world is the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene. Having grown up outside of Buffalo, I am perfectly prepared for snow up to my ass and ice storms that coat the world with a 3″ layer of ice. I can even handle freak thunderstorms and high winds. But hurricanes were not, until I moved to Maryland, a part of my disaster repertoire.

My first hurricane was Hurricane Isabel in 2003. I was scared witless, as the news and media made it seem like the day of armageddon was coming. I didn’t want to stay in my apartment by myself, waiting for death, so I arranged to take my cat down to the then-boyfriend’s house and then spend the day with him at his volunteer firehouse answering rescue calls. While this seemed, at the time, to be no big deal it did cause some harassment from the guys in my firehouse for having abandoned our department and for having been a big old chicken and yada yada yada. Oh well, I was scared, dudes, get over it!

Anyway, the storm itself didn’t really harm our area badly – but the tidal surge did! I spent the whole day after the storm riding around in a john boat picking up elderly folks and people stranded by the waters which had overtaken the river and creek banks and come right into their homes. Several of the people we rescued that day also made a point of rescuing their pets (and just so you know, cats don’t like boat rides). But I had to tip my hat to those folks for making sure that their four-legged friends were safe.

At the end of that day, I had never been so wet, so exhausted, and so fulfilled in my entire life. That experience made me so proud to be a volunteer, so thrilled to be able to help people who really needed help! That, I think, was the first time that I realized I could make a difference, even a small one, in someone else’s life – that I was, even for a brief moment, important to someone. And to have shared that experience with my fire department brothers – it was an experience beyond explanation.

So now we are faced with another hurricane. This lovely weather lady, named Irene, is heading our way with what weather.com is calling an ‘extreme’ threat. It seems fitting to me, somehow, that I am forced to weather another storm in my life. The last year and a half has been so utterly turbulent – a hurricane will almost seem anti-climactic! This time, though, I no longer have fear – instead I have faith, family, friends, and furry four-leggeds for company. I will stay with the dog and the cats as long as I can and then, when things get bad, I will head to the firehouse – MY firehouse – and do what I can to help. I don’t need a boyfriend to protect me, I don’t need a husband to shelter me. I am on my own two feet this time and, as I have discovered in the past year, I can stand alone and weather any storm!

So, to all of my friends in coastal areas, please be safe and have faith.

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I know that I have used this forum to do a whole lot of bitchin’ about various different subjects. Someday, I’m sure, the karma fairy will bite me in the ass for it. My mommy taught me that it’s not nice to talk about people and I’m sure she would be appalled that I have been saying not nice things about people where the ENTIRE world could view it! I comfort myself, though, with the knowledge that the people I’ve been talking smack about are not nice themselves – therefore, it must be ok, right?

But, in between my hateful thoughts and stressed ramblings, I have come to realize how truly blessed I am. And here’s who and why my life is so rich:

  • my family – they may be a long way away, but they have my back and care about me – my mom, dad, brother, aunts, uncle, and cousins have made me who I am today and I cannot thank them enough for the love and support every step of the way
  • my extended circle of friends – because of my fire department/EMS affiliation and my various jobs, I have an extensive circle of people that I know I could call in a heartbeat to help me – this group of men and women are true friends and heroes in every sense of the word
  • my “sisters” – the most wonderful group of close girlfriends who support me, let me lean on them, and have shared their lives, their families, and their hearts with me – this group has shared with me laughter and tears, happy memories and stressful times, support and neediness, hugs and secrets – I can’t tell you what they all mean to me, near and far!
  • my education – I am blessed to have a mind of my own and a very valuable liberal arts education received at one of the best small schools in the northeast – I  have a love of learning and a desire to better myself through education and the college experience molded me into a free thinker, an open-minded human being, and an educated citizen
  • my animals – throughout my life, I have encountered some pretty fantastic four-legged friends who have taught me a lot about life and about kindness, unconditional love, and nurturing – my dogs, cats, and horses have been good friends to me over the years
  • a roof over my head – (up until now) I have never had to stress over where I would live or how I would stay warm in the winter – I had parents who worked very hard to make sure we grew up comfortably and I moved out on my own into a snug apartment – even my house, which I am losing due to a divorce and a royal jackass, has been a haven to me and a wonderful adventure in homeownership and home maintenance
  • a backbone – I lost it (along with my brain) when I fell in love with the wrong man but I have, bit by bit, been reclaiming it. I no longer cower in fear when people are cross towards me – primarily because I just don’t have anything left to lose. But, no matter how unpleasant the reason is, I am so glad to be getting my spirit and my independence back.
  • my faith – I was raised in a church and have always had a singularly special relationship with my Heavenly Father. I am sorry to say that I turned away from him for too many years and especially since last May. I was hurt and angry that my Father could let some of these bad things happen to me. But, with the support and guidance of my friend Drew, I have returned to Him and am healing my relationship.
  • dreams – I have so many things that I want to do, that I believe can happen for me. I have places to travel, foods to eat, experiences to try, people to meet, and hurts to forgive. I have dreams about my future and the wonderful, rich place that it will be. And I have a dream that I won’t be all alone as I travel the rest of my journey. I have dreams and NO ONE can take those from me!

I am truly blessed and I do know it. Despite the anger and the hurt, I have so much more. I have a wealth beyond measure, riches beyond counting. Thank you, Lord.

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Being married to a firefighter is a unique and often terrifying experience, especially after the horror of September 11th.  I suppose that the only spouses that have a harder time of it would be law enforcement or military families. I have often joked that my next husband will be a cop but, honestly, I do not think I could handle the emotional or mental stress of knowing that the man I loved was being shot at on a regular basis. It was bad enough knowing that fire threatened my man – bad guys would be much worse!

I was with a Baltimore City firefighter/paramedic for almost 10 years (dated for 3 1/2, married for 5 1/2) and I can tell you it is its own special hell. The night works especially were the most difficult, never knowing if that night would be the end. As it says in the movie “Ladder 49,” we have nightmares about that little red car showing up in front of the house – the car with the fire department logo on the side, with a chief or some other high-ranking official in it, come to tell me that he’s been killed in a fire. To be told that you have lost him to a job that he would humbly deny is anything special, simply “just the job.” To have to walk behind the casket and know that he won’t ever come home smelling of smoke and proud of the save they made that day.

I can’t speak for anyone else but my coping mechanism was simply not to think about it. Early on in our relationship, I would follow the news religiously, watch the websites while I was at work, constantly monitoring if he would come home to me. As time went on, I learned to set the worrying aside, to keep it in the back of my mind and carry on with my daily routines. The worry and the stress truly do become just part of the job and most of the time I was able to function well. The only times it got truly troublesome was if I heard there had been a bad fire or a firefighter injured – those were the moments I dreaded the ring of a phone.

About 4 years ago, a Baltimore City firefighter was killed in the line of duty. This man had, at one point, been my husband’s partner on the ambulance, so we had to go to the viewing and the funeral. It was one of the most beautiful, touching, and bittersweet experiences I will ever have – full fire department honors for a fallen hero. While my husband served (along with about 50 other firemen) in the coordination of the funeral, I attended the ceremony with several other firefighters from my volunteer station. Imagine over 1,000 uniformed firefighters from all over the region and all over the country – the flag-draped coffin riding in the fallen brother’s engine – the haunting sound of the bagpipes and the faint strains of “Amazing Grace” – the lines of brotherhood there to pay respect, saluting the casket as it passed. It was an amazing moment, let me tell you! I was proud of myself for setting aside my wifely persona and thinking as only part of the brotherhood – until about halfway through the service, when the chief of the the department played the 9-1-1 call that had led to the firefighter’s death. The sound of those tones dropping, with the chief reminding all in attendance that Allan had died doing what he loved and died protecting someone else’s life, caused something in me to snap. Thank goodness we were outside in the overflow area because I began to cry. It was like all of those hours of being a fireman’s wife burst forth –  the emotional stress, the fear, the gut-wrenching worry, the anger, the pain. All of it tumbled out of me in that moment and I truly understood for the first time my role as a fireman’s wife.

My husband never really understood how I felt about what he does. I feared for his safety and prayed for his safe return from every shift. I admired how he never wanted to take credit for his job – to him it was “just a job.” I respected him so much because he truly is a hero, willing to rush into a burning building to protect life and property. He has done it for almost 30 years, both volunteer and professional, and works in one of the busiest departments in the country. I have so much pride in him for being such a noble human being and doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Not only does he fight fire but he serves as a paramedic, treating people in the worst imaginable pain. He truly is MY hero, regardless of the disappointment he’s turned out to be as my husband. I have so much respect and adoration for him as a firefighter and paramedic because I know how hard it is. I have a unique perspective from many fire department wives because I’ve stood in those boots – I’ve hauled the hose, pulled the ceilings, attended the trainings, done the CPR, ridden that ambulance. I can see, firsthand, how skilled my soon-to-be-ex-husband is at his job.

I guess now that my marriage is ending, I should stop worrying about him while he’s at work, right? Nope, doesn’t work that way. I will *always* worry about him when he is at work – I can’t help it. He was my love, my best friend, my hero. And at one time he meant the whole world to me. So worrying about him will forever be a part of my routine, like brushing my teeth or doing laundry. That middle of the night phone call and that little red car will continue to haunt my dreams even after he’s not mine anymore…

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One of the best parts about being involved in EMS (besides the oh-so-glorious events of getting puked, pooped, and bled on) is the training. And, no, I am not being facetious about this – I am an EMS nerd. I love to learn new things! High school, college, fire school, EMT school – I loved them all!

So once a year, at the end of January, EMS providers from all over Maryland descend on Tilghman Island for the annual Winterfest conference. Despite being held in the most podunk, bass-ackwards place on the planet (sorry Tilghman but you know it’s true), this conference is really quite exciting. The organizers get presenters from Johns Hopkins, Shock Trauma, Children’s Medical, and the University of Maryland to cover some really amazing topics that have included: spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, seizure disorders, how to deal with forensic evidence, provider safety, pandemic flus, mass casualty incidents, the history of paramedic care in the US, motor vehicle and motorcycle trauma, geriatric medical emergencies, and behavioral emergencies, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, this year I had to work so I was only able to attend one day of the conference and had to miss the big Saturday night party (which I hear involved betting and the loss of clothing – those crazy EMS providers get a little out of hand).

But I want to tell you about the highlight of the day’s classes for me this year – helping deliver an electronic robotic baby. The “mother” blinked, talked, dilated, screamed, cussed in Spanish, and popped out a slime-covered “baby.” It was amazing! The two presenters were incredible and led us through simulations of a variety of pre-hospital birthing scenarios and possible problems. I have never in my life wanted to help deliver a baby more than I did after this class! (Of course, I will NOT be lining up to be the one giving birth – even on the dummy, that shit looked PAINFUL!) So, women of Easton, it’s time to call 9-1-1 when you’re having your baby – I am ready to go!

And, yay, the good folks at MIEMSS are going to be having another conference – this one’s in Ocean City in April. Can’t wait for more learning – and maybe this time I’ll stay for the parties…

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