Written when I was in National Service in the SCDF as a Firefighter.
I wish you knew the feeling of climbing up 18 floors in full gear, carrying our equipment and running out of breath, but still needing to push on because a fire is raging and we need to put it out.
I wish you could know what it is like to search a home for a trapped family, smoke above your head, inching forward blindly with only your sense of hearing and touch to guide you, only to hear them screaming, then seeing them perched on the ledge outside their house, 18 floors up.
I wish you knew the unique smell of burning furniture, the taste of soot-filled mucus, the feeling of intense heat through your turnout gear, the sound of flames crackling, the eeriness of being able to see absolutely nothing in dense smoke-sensations that I’ve become too familiar with.
I wish you could understand how it feels to go home in the morning after having spent most of the night, hot and soaking wet at a multiple alarm fire.
I wish you could read my mind as we extricate a dead person from the sewer, the lifeless body, the cramped space, and the rotting smell that sticks to your turnout gear.
I wish you could know my thoughts as we see a senior citizen, lying beside her dead husband, not wanting to “wake” him up, living with the smell until neighbours complained.
I wish you could feel the hurt as people verbally, and sometimes physically, abuse us or belittle what we do, or as they express their attitudes of “It will never happen to me”, or “All of you are weak!”
I wish you could realize the physical, emotional and mental drain or missed meals, lost sleep, and injuries, in addition to all the tragedy we have seen.
I wish you could know the brotherhood and self-satisfaction of helping save a life or of preserving someone’s property, or being able to be there in time of crisis, or creating order from total chaos.
Unless you have lived with this kind of life, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, we are, or what our job really means to us.