Where There’s Smoke

I smell smoke.

I’m on the corner of a busy intersection next to an outdoor mall, and I definitely smell smoke. Most people would continue about their day. Not so a member of the emergency services. We always need to know who, what, where, when, why and how.

Not so much in order to save the day. We just need to know.

For those of us addicted to social media, it’s to be the first to update / share / post. These dudes walk the very fine line between being informative and annoying. Mostly, they are annoying. To these types, I say, with absolute certainty:


Your 246 followers have no interest whatsoever in the asbestos fire on Main Street, nor in the old lady on Coumadin suffering a nosebleed, irrespective of the amount of congealed blood on the kitchen floor.

I, however, prefer to connect with my followers rather than drive them away; finding an optimal balance between sharing and listening.

In plain English, I don’t have a smartphone.

In fact, my phone weighs 30 ounces and is advertised as being useful both at home and in the car. It has a lighted keypad, fits into my shirt pocket and has an optional battery, for true portable use.

I couldn’t feel more blessed.

Yes, it’s an antique, but that also makes it quite valuable. Shall we start the bidding at 10,000?

Back to that smell.

Where there’s smoke – yep, you guessed it – there’s fire.

You guys seem to know this story. Have I told it to you before?!

Right on cue, a call for a fire comes through on the (wireless) beeper. The “inferno,” as the caller has described it, is in a residential building about 500 meters away. The traffic light I was waiting for turns green, as if it senses my urgency, and I am on location in a matter of seconds.

A quick look around confirms that I am the first to arrive, which would be great if I were a fireman, but I’m not (yet).

I recall the story of a former EMT I knew, who ran into a burning building to extricate survivors.

He was a very brave lad but, unfortunately, there were no survivors.

And that, my dear friends, was because the building was unoccupied and had been so for several decades.

He was ultimately treated for smoke inhalation (and humiliation) and hospitalized for quite some time.

(He might have been hiding at home all the while – I can’t say for sure.)

Although it may seem heroic, we are simply not equipped, nor trained, to run into burning buildings. We are, however, prepared and qualified to treat casualties that come out of burning buildings.

But instead of just standing around looking cool, we try to assist the ‘war effort’ by questioning the occupants as to the exact location of the fire, and whether they believe there to be any trapped persons. We then relay this info to the arriving fire personnel, ensuring a faster response. Those with an overbearing presence and loud voice try their hand at crowd control, but I don’t quite fit that disposition.

So I speak to some residents, and then take out my vest and equipment and go into standby mode.

This is when we ‘stand by’ our bikes looking nonchalant. Some even light up and have a cigarette.

I Don’t.

Fire crews quickly descend en masse; I relay what I had gleaned, and they get to work. Some stay to ‘work the engines’ while others don self-contained breathing apparatuses and fireproof gear, and enter the building.

I hold my breath.

After about 45 seconds, I need to exhale.

Cliché fail.

I hold my breath again – hoping for a better outcome.

Another 45 seconds pass and the team exit, looking quite unperturbed. The Chief removes the mask covering his face and announces authoritatively, “Just a scare, folks. It’s only a small fire. No one is inside; the coast is clear.”

So, an awful lot of smoke and commotion, but luckily, no harm to human life; just minor property damage.

Thankfully, most of the fires I respond to end this way. People seem to have an innate ability to get out of harm’s way before it’s too late. I rarely see smoke inhalation, serious injury, or life threatening burns resulting from a structure fire.

But, of course, tragedies do sometimes occur, which is why our protocol dictates that EMS respond URGENT to each and every blaze regardless of the magnitude. Furthermore, it is vital, I repeat, vital, for us to win the race against the Reds. Decades of honorable custom is now our duty, my duty, to uphold.

The pressure is immense.

In conclusion:

Let’s hope that my track record stays as clean as it is, and everyone stays healthy, happy and smoke free.

Of course, there are those who suffer from smoke inhalation on a daily basis, to the tune of two packs of Marlboro Red’s.

But that’s another story.

Scroll to Top