Tuesday is normally when I post my riveting investigative journalism feature — at least compared to watching TV static — called The Box. Then again, normally I haven’t spent the early hours of the morning on the scene of a car accident involving a cow. Such was the case this morning at 2 a.m., when my pager went off next to the bed and, five minutes later, I was behind the wheel of a wailing fire engine with a crew of five wondering, Did I hear that call correctly?
Moments later, medics were on scene reporting over the radio that the driver was out of the car with only minor injuries. Though not audible, there was a collective sigh of relief by everyone in the engine. That’s because, in most cases, getting tapped out in the middle of the night for a car accident usually means rolling up on something pretty awful. Particularly in a relatively small town where there’s always chance you’ll be extricating — or placing a tarp over — someone you know. As an emergency responder, you build up coping mechanisms for dealing with the anxiety and adrenaline that occurs when you approach a scene, work the scene and leave the scene. Keeping that in mind, when you find out there’s no loss of human life, the result is like the release of controlled pressure in a steam kettle; it’s immediate and takes a while to simmer down. That’s when a different kind of coping mechanism comes into play: Gallows humor.
Here’s what it sounds like when firefighters wind down from worst-case scenario to not as bad as it could have been…
Capt: Team A, assist the medics once the extrication team is in place. Team B, grab some flares and set up a…
Radio: All responders, be advised the driver is out of the vehicle with only minor injuries. There are no other occupants. Cut to code 1…
Me: So… I’m guessing the cow wasn’t driving.
Capt.: Affirmative. The steaks aren’t as high as we thought.
FF1: We should still hoof it, just in case.
FF2: Sounds like it was t-boned.
Capt.: Hey! Let’s show some respect for the dead. It could be on the menu tomorrow.
FF3: Captain’s right. Let’s just do our jobs. No need to get into a beef over this.
FF3: I hope it wasn’t a cow I knew.
Me: Like Patty?
Capt. (announcing over radio): Command, engine 2 approaching scene at staging.
FF4: Since they’re Team A, does that mean we’re Team Beef now?
I’d like to point out that this conversation ended once we left the engine and went about our jobs, which included traffic control, assisting the state police and medics, as well as moving both the vehicle and cow out of the roadway. With only three hours of sleep under my belt, I didn’t feel prepared to tackle the investigative journalism challenge of identifying what is going on in this week’s photo from The Box…
That said, I hope you don’t think any less of me or my fellow firefighters after reading this. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of the sometimes emotional roller coaster ride that occurs inside the cab of a responding fire engine. Rest assured things would have been much different if the cow had been on fire.
And I don’t mean on a grill.