No one wants to see a firefighter. Until they’re needed. Suddenly, they’re superheroes.
But it’s not magic they perform. Firefighters, paramedics and the commanders, they drill like crazy, workshop and network, bubblegum and rubberband old trucks, radios and pumps, juggle schedules as new hires run away for better pay, do anything short of selling Girl Scout cookies to stay tuned for battle.
And when things hit the fan, there they are, professional and prepared.
DeSoto County’s fire-rescue workers on Friday circled up at the former Winn-Dixie complex on State Road 70, the veterans and a few fresh hires and their equipment in mock-drill mode for a giant blaze that under real conditions could be tragic if not checkmated.
Under warm morning skies and the drone of SR-70 traffic, DeSoto Fire-Rescue Chief Chad Jorgensen gave a 45-minute refresher, some in the acronyms and jargon of a professional firefighter. Such things as offensive firefighting, collapse zones, IDHL, or In Danger of Life and Health, attack teams and other terms got shared with his team. To an outsider, it’s dull, like a doctor using medical terms to describe bypass surgery. You drift, burning time, watching a wire-thin man on a kid bike jet by, planes like bees buzzing around, orange trucks spilling citrus on sharp turns.
But then Jorgensen starts the war stories, the combat tours, the suddenly collapsing roofs, the hanging wires that trap a firefighter in black mazes, the empty oxygen canisters, the fear of traps, of finding expired civilians just feet from fresh air, the yearly list of dead or injured fire crews. It sinks in this work is dangerous and can be sad, that these firefighters wrestling death and paramedics almost like doctors, these kids in the circle who are flexing their muscles and kidding around like high-schoolers, are crazy.
The whole scene, though, suddenly is clearer when paying attention to them, to their intensity, to the realness of a combat-like unit, the gallows humor public safety will use to soften a violent car wreck, the regard each has for the other, age, gender or race aside, the dignity each possesses and the respect they have earned, that’s when you understand why they’re in a circle preparing for the worst.