Well, I have comfortably settled back into Fairbanks life, and the summer is off to a great start. I'm diving in to the life of an EMT, and volunteering for Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue. We respond to a huge emergency medical service (EMS) and fire area, and serve over 12,000 residents. We also provide mutual aid to the Ester Volunteer Fire Department. I was recently issued my "brass" (a name tag to wear on my professional uniform), and a volunteer tee-shirt, and accountability tags. The accountability tags are just pieces of plastic with my first initial and last name on them, but are essential if I were ever to be involved on a large fire scene. I keep them on my helmet, and then give them to the incident commander if I'm ever involved on a big scene. That way, the commander knows who is involved, and who to look for if something goes wrong.
I've only been on one medical call so far, and thankfully it wasn't serious. I know that eventually I'll roll the dice and get a major call, but until then I'm enjoying learning about the medical and fire fields from the other volunteers, and from the weekly trainings the station provides.
Amongst other lessons, I've realized a few things about humans and life in general through my EMT training and volunteer experiences.
1. We, as human beings, are remarkably fragile. The systems that keep us alive are protected by just a few layers of tissue and bone, and we regularly put ourselves in speeding vehicles, ride bikes without helmets, and willingly participate in a host of other activities that put our lives at risk. Yes, we may mitigate that risk and, yes, if we use our common sense we may never face injury (knock on wood), but that doesn't make us any less fragile and delicate as creatures. During our classes, we spent a lot of time finding pulses around the body, and understanding the signs our body gives us when it is in distress. At first I thought nothing of feeling another person's pulse, of listening to their heart beat, or of prompting their body to react to stress. Now, I believe that to feel someone's pulse, to put your fingers against them and feel the essence of their life flow through their body - it is truly remarkable.
In our ever simultaneously growing and shrinking world, we are compartmentalized further and further away from others. Consider your life this week, and how many people you made meaningful contact with, physical or emotional. One? Two? None? So rarely do we allow ourselves to feel, see, appreciate the life of others in a real way. Maybe instead of shaking hands, bowing, or saying "namaste" when we meet someone, we should feel their pulse. It is something we all share, and can truly then say "I acknowledge the life that is in you."
2. We take for granted the services our society provides to us. The fire service, policemen, EMS; all of them are free services that we expect to come to help us when are in distress. Fairbanks does have a few paid staff at most of its stations, but a vast majority of the first-responders in the North Star Borough are volunteer. I find the spirit of volunteerism to be perhaps the highest mark of a (wo)man. I believe that most people are inherently selfish, and prioritize themselves above all things (not necessarily in a negative way). To volunteer is to go against that human nature and choose the well-being and needs of others over our own. Yes, we can be rewarded by the gratification and praise worthy of our activities, but there is still an amount of sacrifice required.
At Chena Goldstream, and across all the other volunteer stations in Alaska, thousands of people dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy toward training, pulling shifts, and most importantly, showing up when they are needed. The other day a woman stopped me in a coffee shop right after I finished a shift (I was still in uniform) and thanked me for the work I did as a volunteer. She explained that my station had recently helped save her house from a forest fire (there are several burning very near to Fairbanks), and wanted to make sure I knew that my efforts were appreciated. I explained that I wasn't a firefighter, but appreciated her words and would pass them on. As I left the shop, I was moved by her thanks, and felt gratitude of my own for all the people who work night shifts, train in the evenings after work, and go far above and beyond any call of duty to provide life and property saving services. How blessed I must be to live in a community of people who would give that gift to people they may never meet. A reminder in my mind of the connections we all share, and the courtesy and kindness we should treat everyone with. One can never know who spent the night saving someone's home.
Finally, I have some amateur tips that I think are important in our speedy world. We all worry so much about our personal safety, but I think in doing so we forget to prepare for the worst, thinking our safety measures will protect us. So, consider these things for your next automobile purchase.
1. Know what your car is made of. New cars these days are filled with all sorts of safety measures, included boron posts (the part that holds up the roof). Unfortunately, boron is SO strong that the traditional jaws of life tool is unable to cut through boron posts. New tools have been developed that can cut through them, but they are very expensive and departments like Chena Goldstream can't afford them. Even if we could, new car designs within three years would make them obsolete! So, if we ever are faced with a newer car with such reinforcements, we'll have to be creative in how to rescue a patient from a wrecked car. Long story short, when you buy a vehicle, look at more than just the MPG rating. Also think of whether this car is going to protect you in the case of an accident, and how you are going to be extricated out of it. Heck, call your local fire dept. and ask what their cutting tools are rated for!
2. Wear and use safety restraints properly. Did you know that when someone gets in a wreck and aren't wearing their seat belt, they can often end up pile-driven into the dashboard, or under the steering column? A seat belt, if worn correctly and in the right position (worth looking up!), can protect you from being launched through your windshield. Your body, heavy and secure as it may seem in the driver's seat, stands no chance against the forces of a head on collision. You will not be able to hold yourself in your seat, or react quickly enough to protect your face and chest from flying debris. Which brings me to my third point:
3. Don't keep weird stuff in your car. Take out the golf clubs, the bowling balls, the meth lab in the trunk, the mostly empty gasoline cans, the case of beer, all of it! The more flying projectiles you have in your car, the more dangerous it is for you in the case of an accident. If you're not sure if something may be dangerous, you can use one of two tests to determine whether it is. A) you can have someone throw it at you as hard as they can and see if it is unpleasant, or B) you can inspect the object and consider "Would it hurt to be impaled by this object?". If the answer is yes, get it out of there. Also, consider that when a firefighter comes to get you out of your car, they are going to consider their own personal safety first. If your car is loaded with gasoline or other materials that are hazardous, it's going to take them longer to remove those things and get to you.
4. Don't panic. Watch a video of an extrication and be familiar with what may happen. There are many ways to get into a car, and none of them are quiet, gentle, or passive. Glass is likely to break all over you. There will be large metal tools breaking into your car. Rescuers will pop your tires. If your airbags go off, be prepared for a loud gun-shot like sound. If you are injured, trust that they will do all they can to keep you from being hurt further. Have patience and try to remain calm and collected.
5. Above all, drive safely, sober, and and slow.
I realize that I sound like someone teaching their child to drive here, but after watching what can happen, I want to make sure my friends and family are safe. So, thank you dear reader for putting up with my rant, and look forward to more to come!