Let's Talk Fire: After The Fire is Out

So the fire is out

So the fire is out, overhaul operations are nearing end and you are more than ready to go back to the station and attempt to do that sleep thing you have heard so much about. Soon you will be rolling hoses and boarding big red to make that thought a reality. Sadly this is how most fire departments actually operate. I am sure you may be questioning what is wrong with this plan, and I suppose to many in our field nothing may seem amiss here. But really there is a lot wrong with the picture I painted.

As firefighters our job doesn't end simply because the fire is out. We should be doing much more than that. The house we just battled the raging flame in could have been someone's home. It might have housed a family. I always like to think that in the back of every firefighter's mind is the grim possibility that some child may have just lost everything. It is those moments when we as firefighters must step up and do our jobs. We are there to fight fire, but just because the flames are out does not mean the burn is gone.

People First

Much of our job requires an uncanny amount of macho but little known to some in our field and equal if not greater amount of compassion must also be practiced. We vow to serve and protect our community and respectfully we must grasp that the idea of protection goes further than just fires and automobile accidents. The span of our duties stretches from general EMS calls all the way to simply saying hi to a person in the grocery store.

It is not that people expect that of us as much as we should expect it of ourselves. After the fire there are a great deal of emotions that remain burning hot well after the red stuff as fallen prey to the wet stuff. There are families who need a shoulder to lean on, people who have seen their life go up in flames that may just need a person to talk to. I know after a fire we are usually tired and sometimes it is hard to really keep a hospitable attitude. It is those times when we must reach into ourselves and pull the best we have to offer out.

There are several things we can do to ease the pain of a fire's aftermath and I hope to give you a few ideas. Where you go from that point on is up to you.

A teddy bear can work wonders on a fire scene.
A teddy bear can work wonders on a fire scene.

The Magic Tool

The tool I am referring to can't force a door, it will not operate a hydrant and it won't even fracture the most fragile glass but in the event a fire just destroyed the home of a child it can do what might seem impossible and bring a smile back to a face in pain. What remarkable tool am I talking about? A simple teddy bear. My department keeps several plush toys on the trucks. At first people get a bit worried about these stuffed animals but they serve a mighty purpose. If you have not seen the tear streaked face of a child who has just lost everything to a fire than first off I envy you dearly, second you should know if you stick with the service long enough you will have to see this tragic site.

A child crying can break even the toughest firefighter and send them into tears just the same. That is where the teddy bear comes into play. While we can not give them back the things they have lost we can give them something to show that it is going to get better. I have seen children smile ear to ear simply because they received a teddy bear and a firm hug from a firefighter. We must understand that we have to be there to show people that things will be OK and if we can brighten a distraught child even if for a brief moment than we are succeeding as firefighters. I must admit even I found the teddy bear idea to be rather silly until I had the bittersweet task of giving a small child one after a fire had ravaged his room. The little tike had lost everything except a few articles of clothes and some random action figures that remained on the unburned side of the room. His heart was broken.

I remember thinking how that bear I had just retrieved from the side door of our number one pumper would not ever make up for the things this little fellow had seen go to the fire. As I leaned down to one knee and handed the boy the bear I remember he smiled a little and asked if the bear was his to keep. I assured him he could have it and that things would get better. As he hugged my neck he asked me my name and I replied Sam, to which my chief referred to me by my nickname on the department which was ghostbuster. That little boy wiped a few tears away and said he would name his bear after me, and thus ghostbuster the bear came to be.

I look back on that day and it always plays over in my head at every fire that we have to be more than firefighters, we have to be friends.

Pictures can mean the world to someone, if you can save them you should.
Pictures can mean the world to someone, if you can save them you should.

Pictures are worth more than words

Adults may not be so easy to convince of the future, even with a teddy bear. I am often ridiculed because in the event I have enough men to safely put the fire down I will try to remove pictures from the home and get them into the hands of the residents. I am not saying risk your life for these keepsakes but remember that a picture is a memory. To some people it may be all they have left of a loved one so we must consider that for us to really do our job maybe it is OK to try and save these memories. We are often trained to cover furniture and protect valuable electronics but in a lot of homes a computer is worthless compared to the picture of grandma that hangs lovingly over the tv set.

The amount of comfort a picture can bring is worth the few seconds it takes to get it off a wall before water can destroy it. Once again I hope that you practice safety first and always remember that not every fire will grant you the time needed to gather photos but if you can you should.

How do you comfort people

What methods does you department enforce to provide comfort to it's community

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Other Tactics

I always tell my guys that we must comfort and care for the people we respond to. It could be something as simple as bringing a blanket to a person who is standing in the cold watching a fire consume their livelihood. A kind word or a gentle embrace may be what it takes to at least let them know someone cares and is not just doing a job. I often try to stay behind and make sure the family have a ride to somewhere safe or if I can arrange it I get them a ride myself. There are times when I have seen firefighters who just finish the job and leave a family stranded without anywhere to go.

I had a great church that actually became a fire department outreach at one point. Through the church we could obtain clothes, toys and other goods for families who fell victim to fire. We were also able to provide temporary housing until a more permanent solution could be found. It is important that if such an outreach exist in your area you establish a relationship with these people and see if together you can work to remedy the sting of fire's aftermath.

Another really good tactic that has proven very valuable to myself and my department is to establish working relationships with people who could assist in this time of need. We have people on call who can act as a mental facilitator to help with emotional trauma as well as people who can help rebuild a home after fire has destroyed it. It is this ongoing relationship with the victim of a fire that gives us the ability to show the community that we are approachable and friendly. Just because the trucks roll away does not mean you have to stop helping the family. Get phone numbers and contact info. I like to give my number to victims of fire and let them know what ever they need I will be there willing to try my best to get it for them.

If we can make someone feel at ease after a fire we should try to do so.

Conclusion

Kindness will always be the better route when on the fire scene. Underneath our heavy turnout coat and bulky bunker pants we are human just like the people we serve and we need to remember that what we see on a fire scene could just as easily happen to us and if that does happen we would want someone there to guide us and make us feel everything will get better.

So remember the next time you are on a fire scene remember to be the friend that people need. In the long run it will make you feel better, look good for the department, but most of all it will provide a level of comfort for someone in need.

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