A YOUNG BOY watched as firefighters attempted to save his grandmother’s home, the home where his mother and her siblings had grown up, and his Grandmother Taylor still lived. The hearts of those that voluntarily responded in his family’s time of need touched him and gave him an awareness of his blessings in the face of something so difficult. While the structure and personal belongings were a total loss, the impact of the work of the firefighters was not. That boy was Mark Reed of the Manchester Fire Department.
When the call came in about the Taylor family fire, men in the community dropped everything, left family and friends, and responded to the needs of their neighbors. It’s a call that Reed first answered as a volunteer firefighter in 1984. After answering another call one to Desert Shield/Desert Storm – Reed moved to the Manchester Fire Department where he has worked as a first responder for over 30 years.
Whether to house fires or accident scenes, there is always the possibility of encountering traumatic situations. First responders carry tremendous weight on our behalf, mentally and physically.
Less than one month after 9/11, on October 3, 2001, first responders arrived on the scene of a Greyhound bus crash on I-24 near Manchester. Around 4 a.m., a Croatian passenger attacked the driver with a utility knife and caused the bus to crash into oncoming traffic. The passengers, asleep at the time, were all injured in various ways. There were seven fatalities, including the attacker. Reed was among those on the scene.
“We never know if we can handle the things we may witness in this job until we’re exposed to those situations. I’ve always tried to put that out of my mind while I’m doing the job and remember we’re there to help someone. If we can’t see clearly what we’re doing, then we run a risk of either hurting the patient or causing harm to a member of our team. So we have to put those feelings aside and then deal with them after we’ve returned to the station,” Reed said.
Thankfully, help dealing with those feelings is available following traumatic calls, and the mental health of first responders is getting the attention it deserves.
He said, “It’s a little hard to go to sleep, but we always tell our crews that if something bothers them, we’re here to talk about it with them.”
Reed recently moved from a shift firefighter of 30 years, to a training officer. While he’s happy to move to a Monday-Friday shift, he is mindful of the sacrifices of the firefighters and their families on the 24-on/48-off rotations. While we’re celebrating Christmas Day and other holidays and special occasions, they’re at the station ready to respond at a moment’s notice to our emergencies.
Reed said, “We all pretty much work the same shift, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And this means someone is there every holiday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that’s just a few of the holidays. But most of our firefighters have small children who don’t have their dads on holidays, especially like Christmas, which is also difficult for them. Obviously, we do this for the satisfaction of helping to serve our community, but let’s not forget all the volunteers that spend so much of their time serving their community. They’re there for the same reasons and never expect anything in return. Your readers in rural Coffee County are protected by one of the five volunteer departments. Please step up and support them.”
There are many ways to show the volunteer departments our support. Of course, becoming a volunteer fireman is usually the first thought, but there are many other ways. The volunteer departments survive through their fundraisers. It enables the purchase of their equipment and allows them to maintain the technology to provide the most successful outcomes possible when they’re called. Assistance in working their fundraising efforts, whether through cooking or any other need, is greatly valued. And, as always, there is one easy and free way to let them know they’re appreciated: a good old-fashioned thank you every chance you get.
The heat and the physical weight they work under add to the importance of all they sacrifice for our safety, structures, and personal belongings.
“It’s always been said that firefighters are crazy, because we’re running into a burning house. We obviously can’t do that without the proper training and equipment.”
“The gear and our tools weigh about 50 pounds. Our turnout gear does an awesome job of protecting us from the heat, but most people don’t realize that our gear is designed to absorb heat. The longer we stay in there, the more heat it absorbs until it gets to the point that it starts working its way toward our bodies. If you’re running on the road, your body has its own way of perspiring away the heat, keeping you cool. But when you’re in that gear, it tries, but it just can’t do it. The gear does let us breathe a little bit, but not much. After many years of research, they’ve determined the internal core temperature of our bodies leads to heart attacks and cardiac arrest,” Reed said.
“If I took a vacation day, I knew the remaining shift on the ship could handle it. If they all took a vacation day and left me here by myself, I’m sorry. I can’t do it. It takes all of us up here, and everybody pulls together, and they do a great job.” GN