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Greetings, all! I'm one-and-a-half months from graduating, and will be able to write more for all my stories once I do!
In the meantime, I'd like to share something with you all about my life. It isn't a happy story, but it isn't sad, either.
It is simply a story about life.
Prior to joining the Navy, I was a volunteer firefighter. I served for about a year before I left home to make my way in the world. I met a lot of great people during my time on the force, and had tons of crazy experiences -- some of them good, some of the bad, but I like to think all of them were needed. For a small town volunteer service, you'd think it wouldn't be that exciting. You're right, it wasn't. Most of our incidents were (thankfully) routine... but every once and a while, along comes The Big One.
Let me tell you about the corvette man and how he died.
I was eighteen at the time. It was the end of summer, the last breath of golden warmth before the New England frost hit. Senior year was starting up, but I wasn't really bothered by the academics, and generally ignored school, much to the chagrin of my mother. My days were spent down at the local boathouse rowing for the crew team, cruising the streets with my friends late at night on some weed-fueled fast food binge, or simply kicking back in my hammock with a good book. It was heaven; I was tan, fit, and content with my place in the world. But it was also boring.
Guess that's why I felt some relief the day the pager alarm sounded around seven at night. Despite knowing I was missing dinner, I raced into the house, threw on a pair of flip-flops, kissed my mother goodbye, raced back outside, and took off in the family station wagon, tire screeching around the corner as blue lights flashed across the roof. I knew the way to the station well, by now. It took me exactly three minutes and fifteen seconds (I often timed myself) to come to a halt in the parking lot, hastily stumbling out the door and opening up the bay with my fob key.
Our station had two engines; Engine 3, a heavy brush truck meant for offroading it through farming fields, and Engine 7; the baby of the fleet, a shiny new all-purpose firetruck. A jack of all trades, master of none. I loved that thing like a child. A Probationary Officer at the time, my job was to ride in the back, five-seat, and if we were responding to a real fire, wield the irons (axe and halligan) as we rolled up to a scene. I would be in charge of opening the door with the irons if it were locked, and using them to patrol the outside of the building.
There was only one other person in the bay. His name was John, and he was three months from retiring. He was 69. He was so short, the guys had to make him a special stool to climb into Engine 7, which he drove. It was Tuesday, which meant the rest of the department was on the other side of town, at a training op.
He took one look at me fumbling to hop into my gear, and said, "Hop in the front, it's just us tonight."
I'd never ridden up front before, in shotgun. That was the Officer's seat. He controlled the lights and horns and other functions of the engine, and also commanded operations from the radio there. Still, I climbed aboard just as the truck rumbled to life. "Engine seven, dispatch. Responding with two," I said into the radio. First time I'd ever used that, too.
John laughed at me as we pulled out, saying we'd need the sirens on. I obliged, flipping the switch and ripping the horn cord with gusto. The banshee scream of a fire engine on response echoed across my sleepy town with all the power of a realized childhood dream.
The details came fast over the radio. John swung the truck into a turn and we headed off to the scene. It was a reported car wreck, at an intersection in the east end of town, by the soccer field in the woods. It sounded bad. Ambulances were already en route.
An engine from the next town over beat us there, having been driving back from a meeting somewhere and overhearing the call. It wasn't uncommon, different fire departments helping out others. I doubted I would have been able to do much good, looking at the scene as we rolled past.
Several firemen were hunched over the ruins of a corvette, ripping out the door with some Jaws of Life. Something red and pale was inside, unmoving. Ways away, a soccer-mom minivan hunched over in the street, front end crumpled. It looked like the corvette had tried to cut out of an intersection without checking, and gotten t-boned by the van at full speed.
John's face was grim. "Gonna need Lifestar."
"Fiberglass body," was all he said.
We parked the engine about a hundred yards down the road, in the dirt parking lot of the soccer field. We got out and he started setting up cones, I diverted traffic. By now, dark had fallen, but the area was awash with pulses of hot blue and red. The Captain eventually showed up, barking orders through his megaphone as more teams arrived.
They got the driver out after some time. I could hear the tearing of metal all the way down the road. Someone brought out a stretcher. John came up to me in the street, telling me to go back the the truck and turn on all the scene lights. "For the helicopter," he explained.
I did as he told, and the dirt lot was soon illuminated by lights powerful enough for a stadium. Almost immediately after I'd done so, a heavy whud-whud-whudding split the air. A chopper descended out of the darkness, like it had been there all along and had only recently decided to drop down and show itself. How a helicopter snuck up on me like that, I'll never know, but I was too busy trying to keep my helmet down to wonder.
Why it landed in the dirt and gravel parking lot and not the soccer field is something I will also never know.
The chopper kicked up a wicked storm of dust and pebbles. From behind my visor, I could hear the sound of them pinging off myself and the truck I crouched at. I'd never seen one this close before, much less one landing five car-lengths away like something out of the desert wars.
They brought the stretcher in as soon as the blades stopped rotating. I remember perching on the pump console to get a better look at the victim. I remember thinking to myself how a person should probably not look like ground beef. I remember John patting me on the shoulder and nudging me back into the truck as the chopper took off. I remember getting out at the station, and suddenly realizing I'd left the windows open when Lifestar landed.
I spent an hour cleaning out the interior of Engine 7 with a cloth. Thinking, mostly. About corvettes and life and men made out of meat.
We later found out he died. Most of his right side had been decimated by the collision. Shattered bones, pulverized organs... it wasn't a painless death, either.
John took me aside before I left for home and told me I'd done a good job that night. It meant a lot, coming from him, but I didn't feel like I'd done anything worth commending. "It's never easy seeing people like that poor man," he said. "But that's why we're here; to help them." After a handshake and another pat on the shoulder, I drove home. This time, far under the speed limit.
Things were calm after that. I entered the house, tossed my stuff on the fireplace, and sat down at the table as my family just finished up dinner. Burgers tonight. I looked down at my plate, at the untouched meal, and was reminded of the man.
My mother asked me about the call, told me I seemed really out of it. "Are you alright?"
I looked her dead in the eyes and said, "Yes." I took only one bite out of the burger, before wrapping it up for tomorrow, leaving the table as everyone else did. My stepfather looked worried (he could always read me) but I assured him it was a fantastic meal and I was simply tired from the call.
That night, I lay awake to the sound of crickets, red and blue dancing on the underside of my eyelids.