By Michael Morse
A part-time job after retirement seemed like a great idea, so I started thinking: Who would benefit most from the vast skill and experience I had to offer?
I was an EMT, after all, and rather adept at handling intoxicated people. Blood doesn’t bother me much, and CPR is second nature. The only problem I might have is I wouldn’t be able to drop the sick and injured off at the hospital and get back to work. That, and I am fairly certain that the emergency medical doctors would not appreciate a retired firefighter used to being in charge trying to take charge of every trauma that rolled through their door.
Speaking of handling intoxicated people, I had a knack for getting them to cooperate, but I’m not sure they give security guards the needed pharmaceuticals to effectively calm those belligerent persons down. As for chasing crooks, I do not have much experience, but I am really, really good at requesting police backup, and I do know how to wear a uniform and can look kind of imposing when I absolutely have to.
Imagine my horror when I realized that every firefighter and medic who has ever retired thinks that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wants them! And worse, a lot of those retired firefighters and medics actually took the time and effort to get their degrees, obtain certifications, and pad their resume! I knew that gig was up when the director of my local Emergency Management Agency looked at my resume, raised an eyebrow, opened a file, and showed me what a “real” resume looked like.
I ended up getting a part-time job in a big box hardware store. Little did I know that providing trinkets, gypsum, garden equipment, and lumber to a demanding public would actually be hard! And not only is it physically demanding, but the emotional toll of serving people whose lives are not actually in your hands is exhausting as well. People who are not fighting for their lives have a heck of a lot more gusto when they are not getting exactly what they want when they want it than those who are in and out of consciousness.
I have learned that stress is stress; it doesn’t really matter if lives are at stake or somebody’s gas grill didn’t get assembled in time for the picnic. Our bodies do not understand the severity of a situation when the chemicals responsible for high blood pressure, anxiety, rage, and the swearing impulse are released. All our system knows is that something is amiss, and the fight-or-flight systems go into full throttle.
So, maybe I overreacted when the young guy complained that the box that held his cordless drill was damaged. Perhaps “Quit being a baby and go drill something” wasn’t the textbook response. Maybe I could have been apologetic and offered to get him a new, fresh box for his stupid drill. But sometimes a young guy needs a little incentive from an old firefighter. At least that’s the way I see it. And maybe telling the guys in the warehouse who do nothing but complain that their job “beats doing CPR on babies” wasn’t the most sensitive response, but hey, I’m not there to win any popularity contests, right?
Truth be told, I still get an enormous lift from helping people. The stakes may not be as high, but it still feels great to exceed a person’s expectations. My part-time job is far more challenging than I ever dreamed, and I have a new respect for the people in the retail trenches. The fire service taught me that being competent is of utmost importance, and I try and remember that every time I show up for my shift. I may be a little odd and set in my ways, but I think I’m learning to fit in with the rest of the working world.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.