I like to think of First Responders as a 3 piece puzzle. It’s comprised of 3 individual pieces, each piece representing a vital department, that when working together create a truly incredible team: Police, Fire, and EMS. It’s a puzzle that seems unstoppable, that when put together is capable of tackling anything. I think about this puzzle often, how when the pieces are all placed together it’s amazing, but how when separated and individual they are all still equally amazing. It’s like this superpower on its own, but when put together it manages to level up and becomes 3x the strength it was when it was on its own.
And then I can’t help but think about the individual pieces, and the perception society has of each of them. When one thinks of Police they often create an image in their head of the brave men and women that protect our communities and work to keep “bad guys” off the street. They’re the ones we trust to keep us safe, and that’s something that makes most of us sleep a little easier when we lay our heads onto our pillows at night. When one thinks of Firefighters they often create an image of the courageous men and women that run into burning buildings, rescuing our kittens from trees (sorry friends, I just couldn’t help myself) they go against the body’s natural instinct to run away; they run in. Which leaves EMS as the final piece of the puzzle. A piece that feels misunderstood by most. A piece that unless you’ve experience it personally, is no more than a couple “ambulance drivers” that speed by you in flashing lights and loud sirens and confuse you on where they want you to move your vehicle. Maybe you’ll see a story on the news of them occasionally, it will be one of a happy ending, it will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, it might even make you feel moved to thank them for what they do, even though you are mostly unaware of what that actually is.
I must admit that I too was once mostly unaware. I had a clear image of the other two pieces of the puzzle, what they did made sense, it was something that was easy for me to picture and understand. While the actual job is difficult, creating an image of it wasn’t, formulating and understanding the basics of the responsibilities included seemed simple. Capture the Bad Guy! Fight the Fire! Save the Human? Aside from knowing that when one called 911, EMS would soon arrive to the location, I was unsure of what else it entailed. The extensive variety of situations of this piece of the puzzle was one that was hard to comprehend. I was naive, but not because I chose to be, but because I had never been exposed to the reality. Much like the rest of society I formulated my understanding based off of what I saw in the media wether it be the feel good stories, or the dramatic television shows that attempted to re-create the reality of those in the profession.
I sit here now and am among those that are acutely aware of the reality of the third piece of the puzzle. I understand that my former naive self was not naive out of choosing, but rather due to the fact that the third puzzle piece is often hidden. It answers the call and then leaves, it isn’t a burning building for hours that is viewed by many with multiple crews and giant trucks, or a car that is seen on a regular basis patrolling the streets. It’s a bit of a hidden mystery. It’s a mystery that one lives their lives hoping to never have to experience. Society isn’t naive to this piece of the puzzle because they choose to be, society is naive because they are rarely exposed to it enough to truly form an understanding.
I used to wish for a world in which this particular puzzle piece was more understood and recognized. Not in the sense that it was more appreciated and thanked, as this specific gesture is often one that leaves me speechless, it is a job that one shows up and does, and that hardly feels worthy to me of reason for gratitude. I used to wish that others were also as acutely aware as I have become, that those that didn’t work in the puzzle would understand this particular piece much like they did the other two.
I’ve come to realize though that it’s probably for the best that this particular piece stays hidden and mostly a mystery. I fear a world in which an entire society is so acutely aware of this piece. The human body can only experience so much trauma before it eventually reaches a breaking point. This is evident in the significant and shocking rates of PTSD and Suicide among First Responders. To imagine a world in which we all understood the daily occurrences of this piece of the puzzle is a thought that terrifies me.
As I sit here and type this I find myself reflecting on the 12 hours today that I spent in the uniform of this hidden puzzle piece and I find peace in the fact that it will remain hidden to most of the world. I think about the variety of situations I found myself in: looking down at my watch before stating “Time of Death ____” realizing that in this situation there was nothing I nor anyone else could do to bring back life to the body in front of me. My partner and I grabbed our bags and headed back to our truck only to find ourselves five minutes later in an entirely different situation doing everything we could to bring back a life. I didn’t wake up this morning and put on the uniform anticipating I would find myself laying in mud as I placed a tube down a strangers throat, accompanied by an entire puzzle giving everything we had hoping for a return of life. I also didn’t imagine a situation in which I would put a mask on a stuffed dinosaur to ease the fear of a tiny patient wearing one themselves. I didn’t expect to watch a building burn as a fellow puzzle piece worked tirelessly to put it out. It sounds dramatic I’m sure, as if its stuff you only see on TV. That’s probably because it is dramatic, and it is stuff that one doesn’t dream of or anticipate happening. It’s a puzzle piece that even to those who make up the piece remains a mystery up until the exact moment. So while I might occasionally wish over a dinner that the person I was talking to just understood, I mostly remain grateful that they will live the rest of their life and stay naive.
This puzzle is comprised of pieces that rely on the other to function. Without the other two pieces I would often be left unable to complete the job of my piece. It is a unique combination often reliant on the pieces outside of its own. They are amazing independently, but also incredible when pieced together. Each of the pieces serves a vital purpose. Contrary to what some may believe they are all equally as important. It is a small puzzle that understands a particular piece of life that to the rest of the world remains mostly a mystery.