The first night on the job in the dispatch room for the fire department…
So late, so quiet. The 24-hour clock reads 0317. Three stamping time clocks acknowledge each minute out of unison. Otherwise, silence. Suddenly the alarm cuts and jump-starts my heart. I grab the line.
“Fire emergency.” So firm, so sure – yet my insides turn.
This new world I have so recklessly taken on overwhelms me with its seriousness. With each ring, I feel responsible for someone’s life. I fumble the hot potato from hand to hand until I am able to pass it on to firefighters dragged from their dreams to those in need.
The intensity of the frightened woman’s voice shakes me to my core. “Help me, please! Oh God! Oh God!”
“Do you have a fire?” I struggle to suppress my fear.
“Yes, yes. Oh God, please help!” She screams over me.
“What’s your address?”
Click – I’ve lost her. My pulse races. It’s late. Everyone must be sleeping – children perhaps. My partner grabs the printout. We got an address!
I send out the alarm: “5-2 alarm for District 9, Rescue 9, Pump 8, Pump 9 and Truck 7. Respond to house fire.” My throat tightens. I gasp for much-needed air and continue. “Three hundred Maple Drive.” I provide cross streets, map numbers and hydrant locations to the sleepy-eyed firefighters. I pass the hot potato. Now I sit and wait, count and hope. Each second is an hour.
“Pump 9, 10-12,” the radio spits at me. Thank God, they’ve arrived.
“Two-storey house, fully involved. Rescue 9, start search and rescue. Pump 8, catch that hydrant.”
Time passes and I hear nothing. Then, “Pump 9 to control. We report three rescued victims. Smoke inhalation. Are ambulances responding?”
Fifteen minutes later, the fire is knocked down. My heartbeat slows. I unclench my fists. We didn’t lose anyone.
I have been part of this scary world for only three short weeks. My first fire is now behind me. They say it gets easier, but right now that’s hard to believe. Feeling so alone and afraid in this new world, I remind myself it’s all for the good.
I walk the room, then return to my console to wait for the next one. My partner, who’s had 15 years of this, tosses her pen forward and falls back into her chair. She stairs vacantly at me for a moment. “I thought we were going to lose someone,” she mutters, and I see the relief on her face.
Perhaps it never does get easier.
Colleen Crawford is recently retired from a local fire department and is mother to Molly, 25. This short story was published in Canadian Living Magazine in July, 1995.
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