It’s a waiting game now. We are used to that in the retained fire service. Sometimes I lie in bed smugly satisfied that I don’t have to get up at the same time every morning.
There is no discernible pattern to the calls. Three in one day, none for a fortnight, 3am, jump out of bed, 8.15 am, “Sorry kid, you’re gonna be late for school”. I love the calls in the middle of the night. Sleep-to-wide awake in two seconds – shoes on – out the door. Within five minutes the brigade has rallied and we are on the road, psyched for whatever mission the fax-machine printout has ordained for us.
It’s the WAGs I feel sorry for. I wonder if they fall back to sleep or lie awake wondering what we’ve been called into? Luckily for whoever, I’m single and will likely stay that way as long as I’m tied to this job. It must be hard for partners; nights out are strictly controlled by a time off book. Shopping trips to Ennis have to be planned with the foresight that civilians use for booking a weekend getaway. Spontaneity is out of the question. Any activity might be cut short – I once rocked up to a call on a dose of Viagra.
A lockdown is nothing to me. Most of my life operates within five minutes or 1.5 miles of the fire station anyway, killing time, waiting for calls. I don’t mind, I am inherently lazy and in this job that might be a character asset. Other lads have jobs, self-employment can work. I handed out my CV all over town but who wants to hire someone who has to drop everything in a heartbeat? I do a few bits in a hotel when the tourist season starts, I go to the gym, sometimes meet friends, just generally potter around. It can be hard in summer when everyone else heads to the alluringly close beach leaving me scratching my balls waiting for disaster to strike. I console myself with my lowered carbon footprint, we should all learn to be content with less travel. Still, if any of you know any retained firemen without families, call in to them, I’m sure they’d appreciate it. They give up a lot to be there when you need them.
I should probably write a book or something. I’m time rich and love that I have the opportunity to be around my son, he thinks it’s great. He loves to hear about the calls when I return and the training I do. He says he wants to be a firefighter. He knows all about backdrafts, flashovers, pyrolysis and hose techniques. We watch youtube videos of burning buildings together. I’m certain he will make a better fireman than me, he’s so bloody fit and smart.
The initial training was designed to prepare us for the worst eventualities and when to say “No, we can’t go in.” Trust me when I say if there is a chance for you we are going in. I’m so grateful I got the opportunity at an age in life where boot camps seemed improbable. It was a challenge. One lad in our brigade has climbed to the top of Everest and Kilimanjaro, amongst other things, and he told me that the breathing apparatus course was the hardest thing he has ever done. I felt like I tried my best just to finish bottom of the class. I’m not used to that, my poor old ego took a hit, but it was great craic once I got through the daily nervous breakdown. God probably thought I needed humility more than the merits. I think it must have changed me a little, getting us ready for whatever and right now the unknown is what we face.
I don’t know what our role will be in the Covid crisis? It’s entirely possible, with everyone safely indoors, that we won’t get any calls at all. If the State apparatus is overwhelmed we could be busier than ever, maybe the rumours are true and we are going full martial law. Really though, when all is said and done, today is the same as any other day for retained firefighters. If the alerter goes, if there is a job to be done, we will drop everything and go do it.