Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Repost: Like the medicine we use, life as a paramedic has an expiration date.

Warning* This blog contains disturbing details and is not for sensitive readers.

I’ve been a paramedic for thirteen years, eleven of which on a fairly busy department. When I set out to become a paramedic, I longed for the excitement and rush of racing against time and nature to bring someone from the brink of death. I dreamed of being the guy that people called when there was no one else who could help them. Guiding me, in a sense, was my older cousin, Greg, to whom I’ve always admired.

As I was beginning life as a paramedic, Greg was slowly realizing what I have only recently learned. He was losing that thrill—that special drive—being a paramedic brings to a person. Though I saw it happening to him, I couldn’t fathom it ever happening to me.

Life as a paramedic is tough. I’m not complaining because it can be the greatest job in the world but it is hard.

Part of our job is to forget each horrible call in time to focus on the next. For the most part, I’ve done that throughout my career. But I’m not a robot. Whereas most people have never watched a person die, I’ve done it, sometimes, more than once in a single day. While most people couldn’t imagine holding a baby who has been shaken so violently that they die in their arms, I have done that. 

It is those calls, the ones where a family is driving behind their son’s vehicle when he hits a tree and dies on impact, that add up over the years to set in a special place in my heart. Most paramedics, I imagine, carry similar weight within and continue carrying such burdens throughout their career.

But then, for some paramedics, a run changes everything. For me, it was a car accident on a beautiful fall day. For others, it might be something entirely different or it may never happen. Though I’d seen death of every imaginable type, I wasn’t prepared for that wreck. You might ask why it was different and I’ll try to explain here. That day, in the back seat of a destroyed minivan, I looked into the dying eyes of a little boy. In that split second I made a subconscious connection with him that few people have ever had with a person. At that moment, I couldn’t move; I wanted to call a time-out and hug him, tell him everything would be alright. But I knew better; I had work to do. Outside of the van, with his mother praying next us and police officers surrounding us holding up sheets so passer-bys couldn’t see this boy at his worst, my crew and I worked our best, all while secretly knowing our efforts might be in vain.

Despite the doctors’, nurses’, and our best efforts, several hours later in a hospital bed, that little boy died. The wreck had killed him.

You know what? In some ways that wreck killed me as well.

I didn’t consciously say I never wanted to be a paramedic again, it wasn’t like that, but the joy of my job was gone.

So that was my call, the call that ruined me as a paramedic. It took me awhile to understand that I’d passed my expiration date like my older cousin had so many years before but I eventually realized I wasn’t the same paramedic that I once was. Don’t get me wrong, my skills are fine, heck a lot of them I could do in my sleep, but my zeal—my love of the work—is gone.

It turns out my expiration date was September, 2007 and like any medication past its expiration date, I can still do the job but I’m not as strong as I once was.

Thanks for listening. I promise my next fire department blog will be lighter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Working in the Inner City

Regular followers of this blog probably already know that I am a lieutenant for a large central Ohio fire department and I have been working mostly in the inner city for the last year. For firefighters, working in the inner city also means living in the inner city for 24 hours out of every 72. It is almost like a second home. We sleep there, eat there, and take emergency calls there.

On nice days we leave our bay doors open and a lot of times we sit out on the ramp (we call it ramping), but it is basically just a way for us to be a part of the neighborhood. Doing this makes us approachable for people needing help or people simply wanting to chat. With this blog I wanted to give you a little glimpse into working in that kind of an area. Let me preface this by saying there is a lot of good that happens around there, but this blog will mostly focus on the bad. Hey, I'm trying to paint a specific picture here. Here are just a few of the interesting things that you may not have imagined could happen.

Sometimes the neighborhood is very noisy and very violent. If you have ever heard of the gang the Bloods, then you'll understand how violent when I say there is Blood turf only a few blocks away from our station.

Nightly, police helicopters fly overhead so often that we don't even bother looking up at them anymore. They are just there, like airplanes for someone living near an airport. At least once a month I am approached at my vehicle as I am either getting ready to leave work or getting ready to start my shift. The person who approaches me usually asks for money. Typically, the story is that the person is out of gas and needs a few bucks to get to wherever they need to go, but sometimes the story is a little more clever.

On a typical New Year's Eve, the gunfire at midnight sounds literally like a war zone. Celebratory automatic gunfire explodes from around the station and continues for quite some time. If you're quiet enough you can hear some of the bullets land on the roof as they make their way back to earth. You know, gravity and all. The other medics tell me they have responded to calls where bullets have come back down and struck people in the tops of the heads or shoulders, though I haven't been on any of those calls yet.

Our parking lot is surrounded by an 8 or 10 foot chain-link fence topped with barbwire that we lock every night. Even doing that, there has been times where the fence has been cut and firefighters with full tanks of gas on the night before find themselves stopping at the gas station on the way home.

With that said, let's get to last night. I was on the engine. My driver was another medic and is a friend of mine. Here's a quick side note about him: During his first week on company out of the academy (13 or so years ago), he responded to a fire. As he knelt on the front porch to put on the facepiece of his SCBA (Self-contained breathing apparatus or air tank) he heard a loud pop and felt pain in his knee. He knew right away what had happened and he shouted, "I've been shot." Turns out he was right. The fire had heated ammunition within the house to the point that it went off and my friend successfully tried to catch one of the bullets with his knee. Yeah, ouch. Not a great way to start a career.

Anyway, back to last night. As a couple of us walked into the apparatus bay for who knows what reason, we heard multiple distinct, rapid-fire gunshots somewhere right outside the station. We immediately shut the bay doors and waited for the police and what was sure to be a run. Within a minute, our tones went off and we were dispatched to a street one block west of the station on an auto accident. Before we reached the truck, the dispatcher called on the phone and told us not to respond until the police arrived on the scene because the accident was from a shooting. We waited about 30 seconds until the police had everything secured and then we hurried to the scene. Because of the nature of my job and the sensitivity over talking about details, whether those details concern an on-going investigation or HIPPA laws for patients, I'm not going to get into what we found. I will say that we did find a person who had been shot and we did what we do to help him. The last I heard, he was in stable condition at the ER.

Here is the news report if you want to know more along with some video of the aftermath.

So, that was the start of my night. The amazing thing about that call is that it isn't something entirely unusual. I've only been spending most of my shifts at this station for a year now, but the other firefighters tell me this kind of thing happens quite often. The night didn't get much better, although none of the other calls were much worth mentioning here. Let's just say we were busy. In 24 hours, Engine 15 responded to 18 calls. That's busy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Death Alarm

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by horror stories. In fact, the first fiction I had ever written was a horror story when I was a preteen. I wrote about my terrible first tale here.

Anyway, over the last few years while writing my various novels for Rhemalda Publishing, I wrote a few horror short stories. If I suddenly had an inspired idea I'd literally stop everything else and write that story. A lot of times that story would be horror. I decided it might be fun to put out three of those stories in a collection on Amazon.

When I heard about Amazon's Kindle Select program where they allow Kindle books to be given away for free for a limited time, I knew I needed to do this. So, starting today (Wednesday, March 7, 2012) through tomorrow (Thursday, March 8, 2012) I will be giving away my horror collection for free.

If you have a Kindle or a tablet like an Ipad (simply download the Kindle app to your device) you can grab my collection for free. If for no other reason, check it out for Steve Murphy's amazing cover. And if you miss this deal, the good news is that the collection is still available for less than 3 bucks. Can you say, "such a deal?"

So, download Death Alarm, give it a read, and if you like what I've written please review my collection on Amazon. To make it even easier, I have provided a link. Also, do me a huge favor and share this deal with your friends and social media. I hope to give away a ton of books.

Here is the cover copy for Death Alarm:

From the author of Tamed and The Light of Epertase trilogy come Douglas R. Brown's twisted tales of the macabre. In this three-story collection, Douglas explores the devastating depths of mental illness, the evil that burns within men who kill, and angels who aren't always what they seem.

In the title story, Death Alarm, Douglas uses his real-life experiences as a career firefighter to explore the consequences when those who go to the rescue become those most at risk. When pure evil battles the noblest of professions, the blood will flow like water from the very hydrants that firemen use every day.

Following the title story is a psychological tale entitled Janitor. Working the nightshift in a run-down factory, Jeb quickly realizes he may not be alone. What does the man dressed in black want with him? And can Jeb keep his sanity long enough to find out?
Closing out the collection is a brutal story titled Skelwaller Lane where sometimes even the most horrible behavior can be justified if only you listen to how the true story begins.

In addition, Douglas, by way of Rhemalda Publishing, has included an exclusive 2-chapter preview of his newest break-through novel, Tamed, where werewolves are sold as pets. Recently called, "the Jurassic Park of werewolf stories," Douglas is excited to give you a peek with this free preview.

In the Death Alarm short stories, Douglas grabs you by your arms.

And then he chops them off. Sensitive stomachs need not continue.