Editor's note: Today's edition contains a special section on "Local Heroes," a look at emergency personnel. Instead of an editorial on the subject, we offer a first-person account.
Fireman are unique people to say the least.
As the cliche goes, they are the ones running into a burning building when everyone is running out. It sounds rather corny, but it's the honest truth. And while Hollywood has butchered the genre - albeit "Backdraft" was pretty good - few realize the complex world of fire fighting.
Eric Tichy is second from right
I was a volunteer fireman for almost four years, a relatively short lifespan in a fire department compared to others. I joined during my second year in college and wasn't sure what to expect.
However, I quickly learned there are far more emergency medical services (EMS) calls than there are fire-related emergencies. I became an emergency medical technician shortly after joining and quickly found a niche within the department.
I cannot speak on behalf of all fireman, just myself and my experiences in the Alden Hook and Ladder Fire Department in Western New York.
It's an odd thing waiting for someone to call for help. There are times when your pager will go off five times a day, and there are weeks that go by without a response. It's the nature of the beast.
People always ask me what it's like to be in a burning building. I never know what to tell them. More often than not, when a fireman enters a fully-engulfed building, their minds aren't wondering, enjoying the scene.
All I can say to the question is: It is dark, sometimes pitch-black dark, and very hot. One fire I was in, I couldn't see a inch in front of me; I simply held on to the fireman's boot in front of me with a hose in my other hand. All you can really do is keep close to your partner and the wall and try to find the source.
In a few instances, there is enough visibility to have a few men in there at the same time to attack the fire with multiple lines. My department even got into the habit of bringing in a small camera to take a few pictures for safety and training purposes.
A fond memory I still have at a particular fire was a call where multiple pets were still lost inside the building. As several firemen battled a stubborn blaze on the second floor, I and a search team scoured the basement and first floor. Luckily we found their cat, two dogs and a parrot, all of which survived the fire. Unfortunately their house did not.
Those calls will stay with you.
But, for me, it's the EMS calls that I remember most.
I remember one snowy night last December when we were paged out for a roll-over motor vehicle accident with entrapment and injuries. It was they type of call that made your heart skip a beat. It had something for everyone; injuries for your EMS personnel, entrapment for your firemen and JAWS operators and enough distractions to keep fire police hopping.
Getting to the fire hall was a task within itself. The roads were treacherous, something I knew was obvious due to the nature of the call.
Living within a block of the fire hall, I was the first up there; I opened all bay doors and pulled our ambulance out. I quickly got on my gear - which during the winter means extra layers of everything - and readied myself for the ride.
Thankfully the man inside the vehicle wasn't too badly injured, but for some reason the call stands out for me. I think it was the late night, snow-covered roads and uncertain nature of the call that makes me reflect on it often.
It's those moments I wish I were still a volunteer.
I figure one day when I am good and settled in Pennsylvania I will join my local fire department again. I will most likely get involved in some capacity with its EMS department due to my fascination with the injured and willingness to help anyone I can.
I suppose people have grown tired of me talking about the fire and EMS services - I brag quite often - but I imagine that's a common practice in the field. A good fire, a bad accident and great people keep firemen responding.
They don't do it for the glory, they do it for the moments.
I have had mine and hope to have a few more.