All these years and I’ve never done a ride along at my husband’s station. It truly only ever occurred to me that I should (or even could) after some conversations here in our fire wife community. It’s so not my domain and not a match for my skill set that when I first met my husband, I had
nightmares uncomfortable dreams about being stuck in the back of the medic with no stinking clue what I was doing. My heart racing with panic as I heard the tones drop. That dream is easy to dissect. No one likes to be forced into a space where they don’t operate well and here I was entering into a relationship with a firefighter having no clue really what I was getting into. So to go on a ride along where I might see blood and vomit and sick and impoverished little kids that would make me cry was not high on my list. The opportunity also just never presented itself because I’d need to coordinate a sitter for our 4 kids on a precious weekend day to even make it happen.
But this past weekend the circumstances aligned (yes God, I’m listening!) that I was able to tag along with the Captain on an all too familiar run in this inner city department. We had just arrived at the station for family pizza night and a couple police officers were there which was not unusual. But tonight they were discussing what needed to be done about the Mom and Dad with 6 little kids huddled away from the wind next to the gas station on the corner. They had found themselves without a home, refusing to continue to stay with their “friends” who were “partying” too much in front of the girls. And were being turned away from public assistance because there were so many of them and the shelters were full. (Or so the story goes as these street hardened cops and medics tried to unravel their trail of almost unbelievable bad luck.)
Surely these kids would be haphazardly divided amongst multiple foster homes on a late Saturday night if Children’s Services became involved. For whatever reason, softer hearts prevailed and this family needed another chance. After sorting out the details of paying for a
hmotel and boxing up one of the extra pizzas, the medic and the battalion were on their way and I was riding shotgun. Actually, it was the perfect run for me without any blood or vomit. (Thank you for that one God!)
5 little girls ages 9 and under and a 9 month old boy, Mom and Dad, myself and another medic jumped in the back of the truck. I helped buckle them in 3 and 2 to a seat with one giant seat belt and stayed close to the littlest ones while we drove to the motel. The girls giggled with delight the whole time teasing their baby brother for his “big feet” (he was wearing socks that were about 10 sizes too big.) We made small talk about their ages and the excitement of riding in the big truck. In retrospect, I realize in street clothes they probably figured I was either a social worker or an undercover cop but really I was just a trying to be a helper to keep track of all those little ones while mom and dad got the motel details.
15 minutes later it was over and I was back in the battalion.
It was only one run. Only one family. And those little girls faces have been etched in my brain for the past 3 days.
I wonder if they got breakfast the next morning. I prayed in church the next morning that they thought to take the kids to a church that morning to hear the Good News and seek help. I wonder if the 2 oldest went to school today. Where are all the rest of their clothes and toys and the Mother’s Day card with “You’re the best mom ever” scribbled in a heart in pink crayon?
Because there was no doubt they loved their mom. And she was doing her best to care for them with what they had. She was wearing black stained up pants that screamed “fast food worker”. And this woman had been pregnant 6 times in 9 years through it all. She was grateful and holding it together.
So was I. I thought. Cap and I chatted on the way back about how expensive it is to raise children, let alone 6 of them. We wondered how many other bad situations were happening behind the doors of all the houses we were passing but that the police and fire departments don’t see until it’s so bad the problems are forced out into the streets.
None of it really hit me until I got back to the station and looked at the decadent cupcake we brought with us from the high end cupcake cafe in our safe, suburban neighborhood. I had forked it but not even put one bite in my mouth. And at that moment I remember when my husband said “Cap asked if you want to ride along” that my first thought was “Yeah but I really want to eat this cupcake.” My heart sank as I remembered my selfishness.
I guess I’m a slow processor who picks up speed quickly once the ball gets rolling. I dissected the situation a bit with my husband but didn’t want to say much in front of the kids. The other fire wife joked about doing an overnight ride along during Movember because she could safely assure her hubby wouldn’t be laying his hands on her with that thing. We rolled around the idea of the benefit of ride alongs for fire wives. And then we got busy keeping an eye on our kids playing ball in the bay while the guys darted out for an auto accident. That night I snuggled in our warm bed, in our warm house with our full bellies in between my two little ones feeling even more blessed than normal.
But mostly, I just kept picturing those beautiful blonde haired giggling gaggle of girls. I wondered what would make the difference and keep these girls from being 16 years old and pregnant when the cards are so strongly stacked against them.
Three days later and my mind is still there. And it was only one run. One run that reawoke dreams deep inside of helping these people who fall in the gaps of service. These people who are first discovered in need by our first responders and can’t wait until the 8 am Monday morning office hours of public assistance because by then their kids would not have eaten for 48 hours. Or who have too many children to get inside a shelter. Or the single mom who is working hard to make it but her car broke down and she needs a ride to work. Or her dryer stopped. And she’s drying clothes around their tiny apartment while my neighbor is setting his on the curb for trash pick up because they got a new lower efficiency model.
How do you connect the dots of the logistics and provide more help? The problem continues to press on my mind.
How do you not feel overwhelmed when it’s not one run a day like that but ten? Year after year. How do we help our guys deal with this?
That experience reminded me of what I knew about my firefighter when we first met. That he has a huge heart to serve to take runs like that day after day and so many people are lucky to have a kind hearted guy like him cross their path as a first responder.
After this experience completely ordained by God, I am grateful. I am reminded again of the allure of the job. And the tiny little scars left after each run like that. And in his distracted thoughts, he’s probably picturing the last run with a family of 8 in a tough spot. And I’ll give him a little more grace.