The Cincinnati Fire Department lost a good man on the job this morning named Daryl Gordon. I did not know him, but have gotten calls and messages this morning from several brothers who did. By all accounts, he was a magnificent man who will be so severely missed. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Cincinnati FD and everyone who loved Daryl Gordon: Myself and everyone I know are sending you a huge combination of prayers, uplifting thoughts, and hugs.
Today was already a dark day, marking the anniversary of the deaths of Boston’s Lieutenant Ed Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy. I remember sitting at my kitchen table listening to the fireground channel last year during the search for both Walsh and Kennedy, yelling silently in my head for my Dad to save them. I found myself doing the same thing this morning listening to the tragic fire that took the life of Daryl Gordon. When my prayers to God and demands to my dead Dad weren’t answered, I realized there was more to worry about: everyone left behind.
I’ve been with lots of groups of people when someone in their life has died, but there is nothing like a first responder line of duty death. It is truly the darkest hour. You can see the minutes on the clock go by, but it feels as if time has stopped in the hours and days following that loss. I think everyone gets this knot in their stomach that makes them want to puke and scream and cry, but most hold it in. I used to think staying silent on the matter, and not asking how everyone is doing, helped preserve some kind of silent dignity that has for so long been seen as a guaranteed right in the fire service. We hide behind pressing Class As and draping the truck, using the rituals which were handed down to us to keep us busy. But then night comes. And I don’t know why, but the dark sure torments so many in the fire service already, and tragic loss like this, I am certain, will keep many of us awake tonight.
I can’t figure out if it’s because our bodies change from producing serotonin to melatonin or if first responders are born with some weird gene that makes us sit up and night and think, but whatever it is, it’s a constant theme I see play out whenever I’m talking to our brothers and sisters. My Dad sat awake, I sit awake, and I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve had deep conversations with someone else in the fire service, who also couldn’t sleep. You’d think that serving our communities and saving lives would clear our consciences so well that we’d drift right off to sleep when our head hit the pillow. Wrong.
…And that’s how far I got when a 7th alarm had been transmitted in NYC.
Maybe this is why we can’t sleep.
I’m sitting here writing now with the Broadcastify channel up, anxious, hearing voices of men I’ve never met, yet they are my brothers. You see, the anxiety lingers, like smoke around all the rest of the emotional weight we carry, constantly reminding us something bad might be just around the corner. And it doesn’t have to be in our own backyard or in our own department: when the shit is bad anywhere, we all take that on. We sit and listen to the fireground channels, gripping crucifixes and Saint medallions, looking out the window, emotionally bearing the brunt of what we’re hearing. I have no idea why we do it, other than out of solidarity. But when you look at a Broadcastify channel that’s got 9,000 listeners from all across the country, the message is clear: we’re all in this together.
All this said, maybe the point here is that tonight, if you’re sitting up, you should talk to someone. Shoot a guy you are on shift with a Facebook message, text your best friend, send your Dad an e-mail, or send me a Tweet. Whatever you do, don’t sit up alone tonight. Let’s take the night back and make it a time when we connect with our fellow responders in order to chip away the stigmas about expression and mental health that have been plaguing the fire service for decades. Let’s use the night as a chance to help one another.
And then, maybe we can get some sleep.
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