The Day I Was Taken to the Emergency Room

True Fire Tale by Michael J. Legeros


Every firefighter gets injured at least once.  A singe here; a
sprain there.  Breaks and burns and cuts and tears and, of course,
the ever-common lung-full of smoke.  Heat problems happen in all
climes, due to the stifling temperatures inside a firefighter's
"turnout gear."  (Before entering a burning building, nary every
patch of exposed skin is covered:  coat, pants, boots, gloves, and
a "hood" that fits under the helmet and around the outside of the
air mask.)  At any larger-sized fire-- say, a single-family dwell-
ing on up-- an EMS unit is usually on scene.  They're there to con-
duct medical monitoring-- to check the firefighters' vital signs
and, when necessary, provide ice, towels, and replacement fluids.
(Gatorade works particularly well.)  They're on hand for the other
stuff, too:  the odd bangs, the minor burns, and the inevitable
smoke inhalation.  (One of the lesser-known truths of the trade is
that air masks are used rigorously but not continuously.  And then
the next day your snot is sooty.)

I was injured thrice during my three-or-so years of service.  The
first time was at the academy, just before graduation, when one of
my fingers was severely strained during a playful-they-thought
encounter with ten testosterone-charged recruits.  That one took
three months to stop hurting...  Boo-Boo Number Two occurred one
late afternoon in northwest Raleigh, while I was "filling in" at
"Seventeen."  At the time of the alarm I was resting in my assigned
cubical.  "Structure fire; Crabtree Valley Mall."  I dashed toward
the truck, in stocking feet on a freshly waxed floor and promptly
busted my ass.  (An injured coccyx was the diagnosis.)  The blaze
was a bust-- an oven at Sears that someone started without first
removing the paperwork.  I winced as I walked for the next few
weeks...  (On the accident report, when asked how to avoid this
type of injury again, I wrote:  "tread lightly on slick surfaces.")

And then there was the time I was taken to the hospital.  'Twas my
first day back from my honeymoon (!) and we were cleaning up after
a small fire at a high-rise retirement home.  I was outside, dis-
connecting hose and, for reasons that escape me, was doing so with-
out gloves.  A burr of metal, a twist of a coupling, and my thumb
was neatly sliced open.  I grabbed a bandage, continued "rolling
hose," and then notified my manager.  Or, as is the case in the
fire department, notified the Captain.  He in turn notified *his*
manager, the District Chief.  (See, the chain of command goes some-
thing like this:  the Chief gives orders to the Assistant Chief,
who gives orders to the Battalion Chief, who gives orders to the
District Chief, who gives orders to the Captain, who gives orders
to the Lieutenant, who gives orders-- and grief in general-- to the
lowly Private.)

The "DC" took me to the hospital.  He was wearing a "white shirt"
over dress slacks; I had a "blue shirt" on over monster-sized
turnout pants.  We both looked the part.  Stitches were the order
of the day, but not before the most painful part of the procedure:
the Cleaning of the Wound.  The doc/nurse/med tech unsheathed a
syringe and proceeded to insert a four-foot long needle DIRECTLY
INTO THE WOUND.  I made a noise.  In fact, I screamed, shaking the
rafters or whatever passed for construction materials in the ceil-
ing.  What happened next was told to me later:  a little boy was
also there.  He'd been watching for a while and, upon seeing the
big, brave fireman shriek, he... began to cry.  The Chief couldn't
stop laughing about it later and, to this day, the story is still
on the tip of his tongue whenever we cross paths at a fire scene.
Ouch.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. Legeros

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