Disasters. Like blood, i don’t handle them the way I used to. I don’t shy away from them, mind you; I’m just not as bullet proof against them as I used to be, and beyond a few educated guesses I cannot imagine why.
Maybe it’s 20 years of blood and gore crammed into a 7 3/8s hat that has reached the upper rim of the cup inside what I once believed couldn’t runneth over. And disasters? God, the thrill of bedlam and chaos! Just seeing them on television used to raise the hair on my arms.
I don’t gloat over death and destruction, mind you; I think (and I’ve always had to guess) that it was always the sense of complete freedom from all rules and order that appealed to me, and therefore the concerns and stress that go with them.
Normal people think of the future, and most worry … about paying the bills (because some people still work to pay for their own; about 463 by my most generous estimates), about the next injury, asteroids crashing, Democrats ... the list goes on. So seeing disorder reign gives you that break from the rules of a civilized society. Then you are filled with the laser-like focus of bringing it back to order, which had its own purity.
Disasters are simplistic. Pure. So is restoring order.
(God, I hope that makes sense to someone.)
Now? I don’t want to see it. I’m done. So when that EF-3 son-of-a-bitch tornado made prison-shower-style love to my one safe place in the world, my neighborhood, I was none too amused. But I went into it.
As I said, it was no longer exhilarating to see how temporary we are in this universe. How the Earth reminds us that we are Guests at most, and it occasionally has to scratch its ass—which is clearly where we reside after the fact.
No, now I just saw people out of work where businesses were destroyed. Out of their homes where they’d been swept into the woods. And me, out of the one thing that brought peace to my soul these days—my damn boat.
Hearing tin wobble and shift in the trees no longer made me think of chaos, it just made me think my head could get sheared off and therefore made me walk closer to cover to avoid decapitation, where I looked at the ground instead of the devastation around me.
I also looked at something else: Not the patients (once that part was over), and not my co-workers. I looked at the real workers on scenes like these. The clean-up crews and the utility workers.
In the event of disasters, cops basically do an initial sweep for victims then direct traffic or tell stupid people not to do stupid things as they stupidly ask permission to do so.
Firemen handle searches and HazMat (aka “Glow Worm”) stuff, which seems to consist largely of standing under a tent with a dry-erase board and bitching about how many platters of finger-food to have delivered from a Firehouse Sub’s joint.
EMS paramedics have real work, but they’re generally in there to load-n-go.
So who’s left after the first critical hours?
Utility workers, clean-up crews and business (and home) owners.
Responders are thinking about their next call for service in a few short hours and complaining about overtime or how bored they are now, while the guys cutting down trees, securing the hanging metal, and wrestling (and replacing) wires down know they won’t see more than five hours of sleep a day for the next week.
I’ve never been ungrateful for their help over the years, but I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the depth of their responsibilities until I’d seen the same faces doing the same work day after day as I go back to my “normal” life, driving by. (Even as I type this, someone is out there sinking new utility poles, pulling lines and praying no jackleg fires up his generator and sends a huge surge up line that will fry his ass.)
As my lower Lumbar 4 and 5 will attest, I know the pain of bringing down a huge tree and disposing of it. But 20 trees? Even with heavy equipment, I’m in awe of the guys handling these things.
Electrical linemen? Besides the surge story, imagine how they must feel working at least 12 hours straight dealing with downed transformers and wires, not once when the weather is decent, either. Most of us are afraid to turn on a blender (myself excluded, for obvious drinking responsibilities), but these guys are practically putting their tongue on a wire connected to a nuclear power plant or hydroelectric dam on the other end, and they’re working quickly.
The owners and residents? Even after the linemen and brush cutters are gone, there they are, slack-jawed and shell-shocked, not knowing where to begin.
My point? My respect for emergency services workers goes without saying, but who says the heroes of a disaster have to have an embroidered shield on their chests?
Here’s a hint: The guys in the miner hats up in bucket trucks and the ones holding the chainsaws are taking a hell of a lot more risks and doing a lot more hard work than I am on those scenes.
I’m damned impressed, and damned grateful to you guys. Let’s just have the next exercise occur a damn sight further away from my beloved resort and marina.
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.