If you have been in this business any amount of time, you have encountered a resident who has done something, shall we say, questionable. How many times have you heard a co-worker say, "people are stupid"?
I really don't totally agree with that. I am not disputing the assertion that there are stupid people in the world. I am just saying not everybody who has done something stupid is operating with a diminished mental capacity.
Brace yourself for what I am about to say. I, myself, have done stupid things. I think most people have.
In 1987 the music group Pink Floyd released an album (if you remember them, black round things) entitled "A Momentary Lapse of Reason". That pretty well sums it up. Somebody does something that just doesn't work out and after the fact he says, "Why did I do that?"
Now, armed with my basic EMT knowledge I will attempt to explain the physiological reasons this happens. In the deep dark crevices of the brain there is a mechanism designed to keep us safe. This body function relies on past experiences, education, athleticism and kinetics. All this information is processed near the cerebellum.
How this system works is still a mystery to the medical community. However, the system is activated when a person is about to do something stupid. A red light blinks in the back of the brain and a recorded message of a pleasant computer-generated female voice says, "this may not be a good idea."
The system is not 100 percent effective for several reasons. The leading cause of failure is people ignoring the warning. Sometimes the system malfunctions, or, as in my case, it was never hooked up.
Joy of cooking
A number of years ago we were dispatched to a kitchen fire. A young lady preparing the evening meal had decided to oven-bake a beef brisket.
She had laid the meat directly on the oven rack — not in a baking pan and not wrapped in foil. Soon the grease began to cook out and the Iron Chef could hear the grease sizzling as it dropped to the oven surface.
So to adapt and overcome she lined the oven bottom with cloth towels and closed the oven door to resume the cooking process. Well, at the time it seemed like a good idea. Smoke was billowing from the front door when we arrived.
It would seem as though she ignored her internal warning or perhaps she had never cooked before.
The other night we were dispatched for smoke in an apartment. When we arrived, sure enough, smoke could be seen exiting the door.
Using magical thermal imaging technology we found a small fire in the heating unit in the kitchen ceiling. It was quickly extinguished with a water can.
Before we left, the officer in charge questioned the female resident as to why there was no smoke detector going off. The law requires apartments have smoke detectors.
She cheerfully explained that in fact she had one but had taken it down and put it in the closet because it had gone off earlier. It was quite an annoying sound.
The officer, through grit teeth, chastised her by saying, "lady that is what it is supposed to do!"
This deviation from good sense happens frequently to people in all walks of life. It can come anytime including nights, weekends and holidays.
Pick a number, any number
One of my all-time favorite "things people did" occurred a few years ago. I was riding an ALS medic unit and we were dispatched to a cardiac call. We were given an address of something like 15100.
Off we went. En route I asked the dispatcher if there was a business name available.
Picturing that neighborhood there was a fire station, an apartment complex, a stop and rob, and an auto parts store. I could not picture a house.
The dispatcher advised us the address was supposed to be a private residence. Well, of course there wasn't a house anywhere around the prescribed location.
While the dispatcher attempted to verify the emergency with the call-back number, we checked a couple of businesses. Naturally, nobody wanted an ambulance.
Finally, the dispatcher called us back and said the calling party can see you. She says you are far east of her.
Okay, I always wanted to be in a treasure hunt. So, much like the pioneers, we headed west. Sure enough, after about a mile a woman appeared on the side of the road frantically waving.
A blind man could see the sign on her fence: 6870 in 6-inch letters. That's not far off from 15100. I advised the dispatcher of our discovery. The female caller approached.
Have you ever noticed people always want to talk to the driver? They will walk around the truck and pass the officer to get to the driver. The only explanation I can come up with is they assume the guy driving must have some sense since he was able to get a driver's license.
I took a deep breath realizing I was going to have to endure the "what took you so long" speech. I opened the door, got out and made myself promise not to say anything that will result in a trip to the director’s office. But much to my astonishment, the lady began apologizing to me.
I was in shock. I almost had to put the nitro tablet under my tongue. She apologized to me for the mix up and delay and admitted that it was her fault. Wow!
As we walked to the house she explained that her family had just moved to this house a few months before. She pointed to a black mailbox on the house with the magic numbers 15100 on it.
They decided to use their old address and keep their old mailbox.
I was of course in near shock. She seemed like a perfectly rational, reasonable person. She merely decided to make up her own address regardless of where she lived.
I don’t know if this was a momentary lapse of reason or not. There may have been an absence of reason to begin with.
I am sure some of you have memorable anecdotes of things people did. As always, let me hear from you.
About the author
Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.
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