How many times have you heard the old cliche, “It’s the little things.”?
While we certainly wish that life and death situations never happened to anyone, as firefighters we all secretly hope we are the one that’s there at that moment when the opportunity for “the big save” arises and there is no one else trained or willing to do it. We enter our careers imagining the feeling of purpose and value that we’ll get as we delicately extricate someone from a tragic motor vehicle collision, or successfully resuscitate a person from cardiac arrest. We train at rescuing people from their burning homes, once again hoping that the opportunity never arises, while thinking to ourselves “If it does, let it be me who carries the victim to safety.”
Gradually, we discover that we have it all backwards. Yes, we still want to be the one that is there in that life or death emergency. We want to know that we made the difference when it really mattered the most. But these moments are isolated instances. One day we all realize that we have a hundred opportunities every shift to make life a little better for someone when they need it.
For an eloquent example of this revelation, you can watch the following Ted Talk as volunteer firefighter Mark Bezos recounts his moment when he realizes “It’s the little things.”
At Decatur Fire and Rescue we can all relate to this speech because some things resonate profoundly in our minds as well…and they aren’t the big, dramatic emergencies that you see on tv and in the movies.
One call to a fire department required an assist to an elderly woman who had fallen beside her bed and couldn’t get up. After they helped her back into her bed, they stayed and talked with her a while to be sure she was ok. After a few moments, her eyes watered as she mentioned that tomorrow was her birthday and she had no one who would be visiting her, as well as an empty refrigerator. One of the great benefits of being a firefighter is knowing the resources in the community. The firefighters contacted a local not for profit organization who gladly put together a food package, a birthday cake and even a few gifts. The crew that day arrived at her door with the donations, singing “Happy Birthday.” Again, the elderly woman’s eyes watered, but this time it wasn’t from loneliness or hopelessness.
There was no fire, no twisted wreckage, no CPR performed, but the crew felt like they had just been fortunate enough to be where they were needed most.
It’s the little things.
And what’s really amazing is that you don’t even have to be a firefighter to save people. Everyone has countless opportunities every day to help someone when they need it. How many people do we interact with daily who just need a random act of kindness or a gesture of concern to remind them that they aren’t completely alone or forgotten? Probably more than we think.
One thing that is clear about Decatur is that there is a strong sense of community. The neighborhoods are close-knit and welcoming so that you get a sense that most people probably have a good support system and are doing ok. It’s important to remember that people can seem ok and still need that moment when someone makes them feel appreciated or valuable. When you see that big white Decatur Fire truck going down the road with all the dramatic lights and sirens, it’s possible it is on the way to make that save that they’ve trained for. But also remember that you are able to “save” people every day with those “acts of grace and courage” mentioned by Bezos. Even if it’s just by realizing that there’s always something you can do to make things a little better than you found them.
It’s the little things.