December 7, 2006

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if I had no respect? No, this is not a tribute to the late Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian that got no respect. Im talking about offering the appropriate level of consideration for the individual or individuals with whom I am interacting.

Never before had it occurred to me that in my volunteer work as a fireman, that spectators might from time to time not believe that myself and fellow emergency service workers, always offer the greatest level of respect for victims.

That was pointed out to me rather bluntly at the site of the fatal house fire in Memphis on December 4th. The remains of the victim were placed in a body bag and then removed from the remnants of the home in a stretcher basket before being placed in a pickup bed. This was done to allow the remains to be transported under the direction of the county coroner to a facility where the body could be turned over to the funeral home of the familys choice for transport to the hospital for an autopsy, before being released for burial.

This process was deemed as disrespectful by at least one spectator at the scene. I realize that people gathered at the fire site were under stress from the nature of the incident, but the remarks were an affront to myself and fellow emergency workers at the scene.

It is respect for our neighbors and fellow county residents that causes us to rise from sleep at 2:30 in the morning and march into the frigid morning to fight a fire. I can think of no greater respect for an individual than strapping on an air pack, grabbing a hose and charging into a fully engulfed home in an effort to save that persons life. Every time these policemen, paramedics, firemen, or other EMS workers respond to a call, they are showing respect to the victims.

So if you want to stand around a fire scene or a crash site and scrutinize these workers, please remember that they wouldnt be there if they didnt care about the victims.

Through the course of years of service in these fields, EMS workers see some pretty horrific things. Respect is offered to victims long after the event, as EMS workers voluntarily and involuntarily remember sites, sounds and smells from these scenes well beyond when most have forgotten the victim.

The same thing can be said for our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

While you might see a gathering of these folks at the end of the day, joking or laughing, or otherwise appearing unphased by the situation, what you must realize is that it is simply a mechanism for coping with the terrible tasks that they have just undertaken. So a smile or a laugh is not meant as disrespect for any victim, its just a way to avoid focusing on what has just transpired. Anyone that sits there and obsesses on the terrifying job that has just been done, likely will not be long for this line of business.

Unfortunately, our small, rural part of the world does not have the money to fund a coroners vehicle. So we make do the best we can. In an effort to preserve the accident scene while also insuring the safety of the funeral home workers, the body was transported by private vehicle from the scene. Just like years ago, when the local hearse doubled as the ambulance - we make do with what we have, and try to do the best with the resources we have available.

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