Two Attitudes.

Yes, I know, I’ve held off on posting for a long time due to the social media policy our administration was holding people to. It was a difficult road to navigate—but I realized that if I don’t write this stuff down, it’ll be lost forever. And I definitely don’t want that. So after a number of internal struggles with 2015, here’s the (super late) first installment of the new year. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

/RL

—————

My partner deftly maneuvered the steering wheel, navigating the bumps and potholes on Southern Avenue like we all had, hundreds of times before.  Sure, these newer ambulances had better suspension, but they still couldn’t eliminate the bumps from the roads that Southeast DC is spidered with. I dozed intermittently in the passenger seat of the ambulance, exhausted from the cardiac arrest we had just run.

Overweight, ill-cared for, non-compliant with medication, and decided to call 911 at 3:30 in the morning? This patient hit all the check boxes, for sure. In my too-damn-early brain fog, I thought to myself that the creaking of the ambulance’s springs sounded an awful lot like the stair-chair’s hinges as we carried this woman out to the transport unit. (Shortly before she coded, that is. At least she was courteous enough to die in my “office,” as opposed to surrounded by family in her living room.)

“So when are you getting promoted?”

There it was. THE question. Since October—and with increasing frequency since then, assuredly—I had been bombarded by this sentence. Unfortunately for all involved (myself included), I simply didn’t have any real answers.

“No idea, man.” I shifted in my seat, cracking my eyes open. “Nobody’s told me shit.”

The reason for the question, of course, is due to my standing on a promotion list. They’re usually asking about the supervisory paramedic position that our Department utilizes, the purpose of which is to be responsible for an entire battalion’s worth of EMS goings-on. It’s attained by testing like everyone else does for officer-level positions (like firefighting Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains). Since I performed extremely well on the exam, administrative in-basket exercise, and oral situational exercise, the question in question (if you will) is posed to me every workday.

I shifted again, having become used to the inevitable silence that follows. I shrugged. From my end, there is no follow-up; I actually have no idea about what or how soon anything is happening.

But just wait… three… two… one…

“Okaaay… so where are you on the Sergeant’s list?”

(THERE it is. My dumb ass took two promotion exams, and I ended up fairly high on the other one, as well. Everyone knows it, there’s no hiding that.)

“Number ten, now. They’ve slowly chipped away at the Sergeant list, like every other position… except for the supervisor spot. So who knows which one will come first.”

“…huh. Well, at least you’ve got options.”

“That I do, man. That I do.”

We arrived back at the firehouse shortly before relief was scheduled to come in. I didn’t even bother waiting—right back into my rack I went, blissfully ignorant of the early-morning sounds of a firehouse as my head hit the pillow.

—————

There’s two attitudes, two approaches, that one can take towards this situation. Let me tell you about the first one—the wrong one—that I adopted.

Find yourself a disgruntled (or even mildly upset) fireman, and ask him about whatever the complaint of the day is. The answer will probably include some or all of the following:

“Fuck this!”

“This is bullshit!”

“They’re just messing with us now.”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“I should be promoted by now! It’s been five months now!”

“What’s the point of the fucking list if they’re not gonna promote anyone off of it?”

“Bastards, all of ‘em.”

(The stream of angry shit that used to spew out of my mouth was unbelievable.)

This is the young, punk kid who lives inside me (and occasionally rears his ugly head) speaking and coming out. Give me an inch of space, and I’ll try and use a mile-long lever with it.

Problem is, it’s not up to me. It’s out of my hands now.

That took a while to come to terms with. All my life (which was not spent in the fire service or around any kind of public safety, admittedly), you apply or test for something, you do well, and you get promoted or awarded or whatever the point was of taking the damn test in the first place. Things progress in a predictable, reasonable fashion. I’m an impatient and fairly petulant bastard by nature, so this did not sit well with me.

(I can just hear Mike Cohee, from years ago, when I was green as hell but bitching about something similar: “Welcome to the fire department, slim! This is just how shit works: not at all how you planned.” He gave one of his award-winning smiles, lit up another cigarette as coolly as James Dean, and started cracking jokes with someone else before he had even tucked his lighter away. I miss that dude.)

—————

(He’s right, you know.)

You can either be angry about it, and expect things to happen quickly… or you can take the other approach.

It took me a long time to stop being angry about it.

[Inner monologue, said to myself many times over the past several months:] “So let me get this straight. You’re employed in your dream job, that you worked for, applied to, and were accepted into six and a half years ago. Sure, there’s bullshit—but that’s like any job, really. You, sir, get to show up to work eight days a month in a firehouse, where there’s basically no adult supervision if you want to have a goofy time. You’re with a group of fantastically funny individuals, who (despite the constant ribbing and ridicule) are fun to work with and make you enjoy coming to work every day, even if you didn’t want to that particular morning when you rolled out of bed. You have the opportunity to learn something from everyone present, because the knowledge base in a big, central firehouse is unbelievably wide (even if it’s what NOT to do under certain circumstances—remember that, dummy.) We’re all in this busy, sometimes miserable, sometimes amazing existence together, and if you don’t want to be here, you don’t belong. So knock off your shit and get it together, because this fun isn’t always going to be the same.”

“Plus… you still get to go to a fire with your boys every now and again. Any more complaints, asshole?”

—————

One of the Lieutenants on my shift (whom I respect greatly) is in a similar position on the Captain’s list. While organizing some gear in my locker, he and I had an offhand chat that made me really think.

“It’s gonna be kinda fucked up when we have to clean out our lockers, yeah?”

I replied offhandedly, while throwing away some old papers. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“I was just thinking about that today. If we roll out of here on the same list, it’ll never be the same for either of us ever again. Have fun with it now.”

He gave a knowing smile and headed towards the day room, leaving me at my locker with expired paperwork in my hands and a mess of thoughts in my brain.

—————

The second attitude is one of enjoyment. One of celebration. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys or a more rich learning experience than the one I’m currently within. In this, or any job, really.

It won’t be forever. Why on Earth would I be angry about the fact that I haven’t left yet?

It’ll change eventually, buddy. Stop pining for the future when you can enjoy the present. Because the second you’re gone, you’re gonna miss it.

I know, I know.

I will.

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