If we didn’t love the job, staying at home would be easy. An essential part of the work we do is the time when we are not at work. But there comes a time that even the healthiest, most dedicated, and passionate firefighter or EMS provider needs to stay away from the station.
It’s absolute torture knowing that our brothers and sisters are in harm’s way while we quarantine in the safety of our homes, but dedication to duty encompasses far more than showing up and doing the job. Sometimes the job that needs to be done is for us to stay away.
The trust that we have developed in each other over the years is essential. We need to know that we can count on each other to do what is best for each other, the company, the department, and the community we serve. We are firefighters. We work hurt. We do it all the time, even though we know that doing so is not in our best interest. We do it anyway because the strength of the bond between us is difficult to overcome. We don’t like to let each other down, so we suck it up, show up, and do our job.
COVID-19 is an invisible enemy, and the sickness it delivers varies. The virus is unpredictable; it can hit anybody like a brick. Young, healthy people are now experiencing life-threatening effects from COVID-19.
Statistically, people in the prime of their lives are far more likely to recover from a bout of it than folks who are elderly or have underlying health issues, but there are no guarantees.
Chances are many of us have worked feeling worse than how some people who are infected with COVID-19 feel. That is the challenge, and it is up to every one of us to figure out how best to overcome it.
We simply cannot afford to ignore the nagging little symptoms like usual. However, we all need to be aware that the symptoms—dry cough, fever, tiredness, chills, excessive sweating, inability to taste, and, most importantly, shortness of breath—are part of the pandemic, and act accordingly.
Our role as first responders is essential in overcoming the threat posed by this pandemic. We are the on front lines, and it will be difficult to be left behind and bunkered down in our homes for 14 days. But that is exactly what many of us must do. Some firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and ED staff members have been quarantined. Those who have been affected are every bit as important to this epic battle as those who are not.
This shall pass and we will all return to the jobs we love as soon as this invisible enemy is eradicated. Until we do, the temptation to offer opinions and commentary through social media may be overwhelming. The addictive nature of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is difficult enough to navigate during normal times. During this crisis, the urge to offer our opinion on the battle being waged may be too much to pass up. I try to remember one thing before I push the “Publish” button on anything I write, “I do not know it all.”
What appears crystal clear at first glance very well may be exactly that, from our perspective, but we do not know the entire story and we may not possess all the emerging information. Much like a fire scene, each company, and every member of that company has a clear view of the specific job they are sent to do. The pump operator can focus on the gauges and be aware of what is coming in and what is going out. The engine company only knows that they need a charged line, and they need it now! Search and rescue operations on sectors two, three, and four are done with the knowledge that secondary means of egress are being established by companies outside and ventilation is underway. The personnel on the roof can focus of opening a hole, knowing that the crews inside are getting a beating and their part of the intricate dance must be accomplished.
Everybody sees their part of the overall job and knows exactly what needs to be done to get the job done. But the only person that understands the “big picture” is the chief in charge of the incident, and the incident commander processing all information and reports depends on the quality and quantity of reports from the sectors engaged in the battle.
Commenting on the entire job with the limited understanding of the problem serves no purpose other than to expose how little we truly know.
The battle against COVID-19 is a worldwide effort and has many fronts. Understanding that we do not have all the needed information to comment publicly from our respected positions is imperative.
Keep in mind that we all have the public’s trust. It is up to us to keep it. Stay home if you are told to do so or know that you have the defined symptoms of COVID-19. Stay informed, stay humble, and stay true to your profession. This is a watershed moment in history, and we are living right in the middle of it. We all must do our part. Sometimes that means staying home, recovering, and then getting back in the battle to relieve brothers and sisters that will be impacted in the future.
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.