Although this is not a history piece it was written by Jim Blanchard after an actual experience that he had not all that long ago. I present it because of the effect it has had on all that have read it and heard Jim recount the story,
"Just a Fireman"
I left the firehouse on Sunday morning after another Saturday night tour. I stopped at a local McDonald's to treat my family to breakfast. The girl at the counter got me my take out meals and pushed them toward me saying, "You're all set." A voice behind her spoke up and said, "No, not him, he's just a Fireman." With that, the girl apologized and said, "That will be twelve ninety-five." I drove away with that phrase ringing in my ears.
This morning at 0030 hours, I received a phone call from the fire station informing me that a member was being transported to the hospital for treatment of injuries he received at a building fire. I asked how badly he was injured but the caller was unsure. I was the acting chief of department, filling in for the vacationing chief I dressed quickly as my wife quizzed me about the phone call.
I walked into the emergency room and observed a flurry of activity. I saw many fire victims being treated for a variety of injuries. Several of them were just toddlers. Security told me that the injured firefighter was just arriving. I met the gurney at the door. The injured Jake was strapped to a backboard with his arm secured across his chest. He saw me and reached up with his good hand. I took his hand and walked along with him as he was wheeled to a room. His face was blanched and streaked with soot. His turnout gear was soaked and covered with a combination of plaster and soot. The overpowering smell of smoke caused everyone to turn and look in our direction. He told me that he had been struck by several bricks that must have toppled off the roof.
Nurses fumbled with his reeking turnout gear in an attempt to expose his injuries and examine him. A doctor came over and extended his hand to us. He expressed his appreciation for the job we do. Eric was wheeled away for x-rays and returned several minutes later. He told me the fire was a tough one and that several tenants were still missing. The conversation was interrupted by a voice from the hallway asking, "How you doing?" We looked up and saw three Lynn Jakes from Rescue 1 standing in
front of us. Their gear was, likewise soaked and their faces were covered in soot. Peering at us through bloodshot eyes, they inquired about Eric's injuries. Eric told them that he was OK and the conversation immediately turned to the fire.
A Lynn Jake asked if that was Saugus in the stairway. Eric answered yes and went on to say that they were trying to hump some line up the stairs. The Lynn Jakes said that they thought that was us. They too were hit with some bricks, which crashed through a portion of the roof. I asked if they had found the missing tenants. They nodded, "We found them on the third floor. They were all huddled together, five of them. At least two of them were children, maybe three, I can't be sure. They were all dead. We just couldn't get up there; we tried everything; there was just too much fire." The conversation stopped for a moment and then the Lynn firefighters said, "Well, we have to get going." We all shook hands and they disappeared.
A nurse came over and said that the x-rays were all negative, no broken bones. She said that Eric would be sore but would make a full recovery. She added that whenever a firefighter comes into the emergency room he is quickly joined by several other firefighters. She said that the bond we share is incredible. I gathered up all of Eric's gear and we left the ER.
Driving back to the firehouse, many thoughts flooded through my mind. I was thankful that Eric was going to be OK. I was saddened by the thought of five innocent lives being snuffed out this night. Once again, I was humbled and proud of the Herculean efforts put forth by the courageous firefighters who answered this most tragic call. Snow began to fall as I negotiated the deserted city streets. A final thought echoed through my mind. It was the voice of that girl at McDonald's saying, "He's just a fireman."