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LETTER: Emergency responders sacrifice to serve

‘If you want to criticize, come put the gear on first’

I debated heavily with myself whether or not I’d respond to the letter published in the Aug. 13 issue of the Chilliwack Progress titled ‘Drowning witnesses upset at emergency response.’

• READ MORE: LETTER: Drowning witnesses upset at emergency response

But, it may be the perfect opportunity to educate people on the realities of emergency first responders through my lens.

We, the few who answer the tones, have dedicated ourselves, our health, our mental/emotional well being and our families to serve others. The vast majority of us do not get paid, and if we do it is not a living wage.

We are volunteers or paid-on-call. We respond to all manner of crisis. We are the ones who wake up at 3 a.m. or leave our jobs and families to rush to what could be the worst day of our life.

Then we have to return to ‘normal’ when it’s over.

We all carry the ghosts of the horrific things we’ve seen.

We go to each call with an understanding that we can’t win every time.

I have been the operator/engineer/driver who blasts the horn, sounds the siren and stresses about getting my crew to the scene safely, and with equipment intact.

I’ve been flipped off, followed closely, cut off and even passed while driving to a scene with lights and sirens activated.

I’ve had people spout off with anger when we close off an area to land a helicopter to evac a patient, citing their ‘right to access.’

I’ve been blown away at the audacity of people who get angry and upset when I have to tell them the road is closed to ensure the safety of residents until we can get a situation under control.

I’ve been stunned when people hike in to get a picture of someone else’s absolute worst moment of their life. I’ve used tarps, my coat and even my body to shield patients and their families from prying cameras.

At the end of a call we prepare ourselves for the next one. I go home, cry, allow myself to feel in order to heal so I can be ready. I, like all of us, carry a burden of knowledge. We know when what we are doing can help, or won’t help. Sometimes, knowing it’s a futile attempt makes it much more difficult because all of us always hold on to hope.

I say this to every member of CLFD, BC Ambulance and the RCMP who attended that scene. I’ve got you brother/sister. You did well. Cry, be angry, feel so that you can start to heal and get ready for the next one.

Response takes time.

We have to come from our homes, our work or sometimes drop the basket at the grocery store to come running. We don’t get to drive with lights and sirens to our department halls.

We must obey speed limits, traffic signs and the flow of traffic just to get ready to respond.

That time spent trying to get to the hall is filled with stress, pre-planning and calculation.

There are times where we are lucky to have a full crew to attend a call. There are times when we are blessed with multiple crews available to respond. We do the best with what we have and many times that’s not much.

To those who are not responders please, get out of our way and show some compassion and humanity to the individuals hurt. If you want to criticize, come put the gear on first. Come sweat with us, toil with us and cry with us.

Mike Rychtowski

Volunteer firefighter

• READ MORE: Student from India drowned at Cultus Lake Saturday

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• READ MORE: Chilliwack Progress Letters

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