A Fireman’s Lament

I am a fireman and I have been a fireman for a long time. It’s all I have ever really wanted to do. Ever since I was about 12 years old, I have wanted to be a fireman and I wanted to save lives and pull people out of burning buildings. Okay, I admit it; I wanted to be a hero, a rescuer, a guy who would risk his life to pull other people out of obvious danger. But is there anything wrong with that? And I was not entirely selfish in this desire to be a rescuer, because I assumed that people who had been rescued from almost certain death would be grateful. I had the impression that people who were trapped in a flaming inferno would be eager, would maybe even be desperate to be rescued, and I desired to be the guy who showed up when there appeared to be no hope and offered them the only way out. So, yes, I admit it; I wanted to be the one who rescued them.

And I know that you people who are not fireman think that everyone is happy to see a fireman when he shows up at the scene of a blazing fire. That’s what I thought, too, before I became a fireman. Everyone thinks that the fireman rides that giant “cherry-picker” up to the 6th story window and smiles and tells the people inside that the building is on fire. “Yes,” you imagined the fireman saying, “the building is on fire and the fire alarms are clanging, the smoke is getting thick and the flames are getting hot, but there is still a way out. I know it seems hopeless and it seems that you will perish in the flames, but there is still hope. Trust me that I can get you out of this peril. Believe me, that there is no other way. The building is on fire, but I know the way out.” And you imagined that the people inside would smile at the fireman as if he were an angel and, while shouting their undying gratitude and praise, they would leap into the fireman’s saving, strong arms to be whisked away to safety. That’s what all the movies would lead you to believe. The fireman is the hero and the people are ever-grateful to be rescued, right? Well, no; not exactly.

Here is where I was in for a huge disappointment. The reality is that, of the people that I try to rescue, a high percentage do not accept my offer. Sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it? It is a very different scenario from what I had been led to believe. Especially in my early years as a fireman, I couldn’t imagine that people would rather die in the flames than be rescued. After all, I was there to pull them out. Why would they choose to die when the way out was right here in front of them? But over time I came to realize that, instead of being welcomed as a hero, the fireman is most often rejected as an irritation. Even though the peril of the fire is undeniable, it has been my experience as a fireman that a large percentage of people in fires do not welcome the fireman.

Now I am sure that this is very strange news to the ears of most of you. How can this be? Why would intelligent people reject and even ridicule the fireman as he tries to rescue them? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I have heard so many different reasons why people refuse to listen and refuse to act, and I have become so discouraged. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to be a plumber. There would be a lot less rejection and there are some heroics in repairing a toilet.

Here are some of the things that I have heard when I plead with people to escape the fire:

  • “Let me think about it and get back to you in a couple of days. Do you have a card?”
  • “I don’t believe in fires.”
  • “I don’t believe that people die in fires.”
  • “You say the building is on fire, but that’s just your opinion.”
  • “I am really busy right now; could you come back later?”
  • “I used to think like you, but I don’t believe in fireman anymore.”
  • “I belong to a different group and we have another way out of burning buildings.”
  • “I would let you rescue me, but what would my parents think?”

I still love being a fireman, but, now that I have more experience, I am much more sober and realistic in my expectations. Seems that many people are just bent on their own destruction and most do not really want firemen to invade their lives, even when they are perishing. So, the next time you ride past a fire station and you think about the guys inside, lift up a lament for them, because rescuing perishing people is just not as easy as you would think and it is rare that a fireman is a hero just because he pulls someone from the flames.

SDG        rmb        2/23/2019

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