There are some unwritten rules in life. Don’t ask a soldier how many enemy combatants he’s killed. Don’t ask a law enforcement officer if he or she has ever shot anyone.
And don’t ask firefighters about the worst calls they’ve seen.
Mark vanAppen posted a piece to the Fire Engineering website this week called “Daddy’s Girl,” in which he describes just such an encounter. In response to someone’s question about his worst call, vanAppen describes a brutal car wreck in painful detail. He explains how the memory of that crash comes back to him every time he drives by the site where it happened. The last line of the piece is particularly poignant: “Every time I drive past - there she is.” The young woman who died in the wreck.
You can read it here, but be forewarned – it’s disturbing.
Many firefighters experience the same kind of memory triggers – not that you’ll ever hear them talk about it. As vanAppen says in the follow-up to his piece, “The ghosts that rattle around in my head need to stay there, free to haunt me and no one else.”
But it’s inevitable. Some calls are so tragic or memorable for other reasons that they are permanently etched on a place. That’s the house where two kids died in a fire. Here’s the spot on the Interstate where a mother had her baby during a blizzard. There’s the curve where a car full of teenagers flew off the road. This is the place where a crew brought a guy out of cardiac arrest.
Firefighters and other first responders do a lot of good in the community, but they also see the darker side of life. Good or bad, some memories just never go away.