Second Language, Second Family

I was gifted this challenge coin after I spoke and shared an evening with a large group of EMTs, firefighters, and first responders last week.

I got my EMT license 35 years ago. In that time I’ve gone from making hundreds of calls per year to a sparse handful. And yet firefighting and EMS have been, as I once wrote, “a consistent part of my life longer than anything else in my life besides breathing.” That includes writing for a living.

And once again the other night I was reminded why I keep re-upping. The emergency preparedness, the public service, the excitement, the lights and sirens, the stories–they’re all a part of it, of course, (and I wouldn’t even be giving speeches like last week’s if it wasn’t for Population 485) but the longer I’m involved the more I appreciate the less obvious aspect, which I wrote about in the Roughneck Grace essay “First Responders”:

 One of the elements of firefighting and EMS service I most cherish is how each of us comes through the door with our own diverse backgrounds and interests—sometimes with little or no overlap, and in some cases outright opposition—and yet within the context of emergencies we all speak a similar language and share a common history. We can speak in esoteric acronymns and slang (“S.A.M.P.L.E.,” “scoop-n-scoot,” “B.S.I.,” “frequent flyer”) and know exactly what someone otherwise wholly unlike ourselves is trying to convey. Should we find ourselves at the side of the road beside a wrecked car, we may not know each other’s names, but we will know what to do, and do it together.

And as I wrote in the From the Top essay “Ambulance Karma”:

…I also love how the fire and rescue world exists in its own little space outside the things I do to make a living…all the writing and performing and running hither and yon, and yet when I step into that classroom and see the legless, armless, BigHead mannequin lying there on the table with his hair that looks like bad chocolate frosting and his teeth that click if you put too much pressure on them while inserting an airway, well then I know that it’s time to practice inserting airways.

I don’t take membership in this group for granted. The event the other night was like a family reunion with my secret family. I’m grateful for their service, and grateful to be allowed a place at the table–and on the roster–beside them.

Keep’er safe.


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