Updated: Sep 6, 2019
When most people think of a War Story they conjure images of a salty old veteran, flat cap on, covered in pins from his service days, nursing a bowl of loudmouth soup and regaling his friends with tales of storming a Japanese pillbox in the Pacific or dropping in to Sicily with "Ol' Blood and Guts" himself. While this is very true (and an amazing experience I highly recommend having once in your life) the first responder community, not coincidentally made up of a lot of veterans, has adopted the term in a broader sense to include any and all experiences that can only be had as a result of public service. These stories are the epitome of, and usually followed by the phrase "you can't make this sh*t up".
This community of people who share their stories with one another is a fraternity like no other with the only criteria for membership is simply that you took an oath of service to an often ungrateful fellow man with the sacrifice of your time, sanity, family, often health and sometimes life. They are exposed daily to the kinds of things that slow down traffic just so the average person might get a glimpse of what happened. They earn their stripes by seeing and doing things for 20, 30 or even 40 years that most people, if they are lucky, won't ever do or see once in their life... and they do it daily.
Don't believe in the power of the full moon? Ask and cop, firefighter, medic, corrections officer, ER doctor or nurse and they will tell you it is real. They can't tell you WHY it happens but they do know it DOES happen and will have at least half a dozen stories to make a believer out of you. These experiences, like everything a person goes through in life, need to be processed and often times can't be processed without sharing them out loud, but how?
Who can you tell about the guy who came in to the ER with a bottle of Tobasco sauce stuck in his anus? How do you explain that he had taken the cap off and created a vacuum seal which prevented it from being pulled out? What will they think when you are chuckling as you tell them you had to drill out the bottle to release the vacuum seal and get it out? Things like this happen ALL THE TIME to the point they become comical so they don't become depressing (100% true story shared directly with me BTW).
Like any brotherhood, people in these professions have shared experiences that are only able to be related to someone who has "been there, done that and got the t-shirt". My wife asked me once what a dead body smells like. I could only tell her "once you smell it you know it." When I get around other first responders I can say "I walked in and knew from the smell someone had died" and they give a knowing nod. Sometimes you even get a brief "Ya, you can't mistake that smell" comment for good measure.
Jon and I met while I was doing a different podcast discussing men's issues in the modern world. I had been retired from law enforcement for about 4 years and had disconnected from that community for the most part out of both necessity and a little bitterness. As Jon and I started talking I fell back into that easy dialogue that only comes from having a shorthand or a code with another person. I realized how much that had been missing from my life and how I had been denying that I needed it.
We ended up doing a podcast episode that featured one of the guys on the show sharing a story with a table full of other sheepdogs and the feedback from people who listened was immediate. Their request? More of THAT! I spoke to Jon about the idea and asked him to co-host since I knew we found an easy dialogue. Our first three episodes were his story, his father's story and my story and the effect was immediately cathartic. The biggest problem we were concerned about was "could we get guests?" but that fear soon evaporated. Much like a dam breaking we found that while some were hesitant to come share their experiences, many more were willing to sit down with like minded people and tell a tale that, in most circles, is too incredible to believe.
If you hear "course language" or cursing on the podcast? Well, that is just a frequent byproduct of letting these men and women relax with their peers and be authentic. If you hear stories that sound callous or insensitive or "politically incorrect" remember that being a police officer or a firefighter or serving in the military for any considerable length of time exposes them REPEATEDLY to human behavior and human nature. They see the ugly truth about where stereotypes come from and how people can choose to live up or down to them. I have often said that after 20 years in the field, most first responders should be awarded honorary degrees in psychology and human behavior.
In short, if you tune in to this podcast you may hear things that make you laugh, make you squirm or even make you uncomfortable but what you are hearing are the things the people in these professions witness daily. Not because they were born into it; not because they are bound to it but because they chose to sacrifice a piece of themselves to help their fellow man. While it comes at a personal cost, it is one they pay willingly and freely. Think about all they have seen and experienced next time you get the urge to say something negative about public servants. One of them might be right next to you.
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