It was weird watching Hurricane Sandy through my front window rather than through the windshield of Rescue 5. It seems as though every major storm that passed through New England over the last twenty some odd years waited for me to start my tour. Sad truth is, I liked that just fine. It’s easy being alone during bad weather, even if the job you are doing is hard. This time, things were different; I had to ride it out at home.
Being home and helpless is difficult. As the winds picked up velocity and the branches of the trees, and the trees themselves shook, and shattered and fell to the ground I could do nothing but watch. My window was as close to the action as I would get, and I was not all that crazy about standing too close to that window! I found it difficult to sit still and watch things go flying by, but there was nothing I could do to change what was happening.
Nature’s fury is a little less intimidating thanks to advances in technology. By pressing a button we are able to track a storm, know when it’s coming, when it’s going, how much rain to expect, how strong the winds will be, and a whole bunch of other information like barometric pressure and things like that that mean absolutely nothing to me. What did matter was the fact that I knew that this too would pass, and the lights will come on, and hopefully stay on, and life will return to normal. This confidence in our ability to weather a storm is a luxury only afforded the most recent generation, prior to us people hunkered down when the wind blew, hopeful it would end, but not knowing if things would get worse before they got better.
Maybe things were better that way, and some fear was instilled in humanity. Humility and appreciation seem much more appetizing when not sure if at the next moment everything could end, or be forever changed. Alas, humility has never been my strength, and as I watched the chaos outside of my window I knew it would all be over soon. The TV told me so.
I’ve often said that it’s our families that deserve the credit when we are out doing our thing, but I never really believed it. I thought I believed it, and if questioned would vociferously defend that statement, but as the windows shook, and more branches fell, and another tree succumbed to the eighty mile an hour gusts, and my heart pounded a little harder than I thought possible, and I contemplated calling 911 to report trees in the wires, I realized just how much I had taken the family I left behind for granted. I was nervous, and worried, and it was not a feeling that I’m used to. My family was used to it, having been left alone during emergencies for years.
I enjoy nothing more that being called to action, and braving the elements while responding to some emergency or other. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other, fighting natures wrath on the way to save some poor soul from whatever predicament they find themselves in. Even the most wildly lived lives consist mostly of boring routine, and the chance to challenge the elements and make a difference and break the monotony is one I live for. Losing myself in an emergency is easy, and life affirming, and an enormous ego boost.
It’s a wonder I can even fit my head through the doorway of our home, where I weathered this storm, miserable, knowing that I was missing all of the fun.
And my wife stood by, busy with her routine, comfortable in her place, batteries ready, candles where they needed to be, dinner for days prepared, ice in the cooler, crossword puzzle books and some games next to the battery operated radio.
She was prepared. I was not. Somewhere in my thick skull the notion that I was above commoners in terms of severe weather readiness resided. Let the hurricanes, blizzards, heat waves, tornadoes and earthquakes come; I am ready, willing and able to respond to those emergencies! But prepare for them? Not even close. Preparation is dull, part of that 90% monotony called life. Preparation for things that “might” happen is far different than responding to things that “did” happen.
In my arrogance I failed to allow myself to live a moment in my families shoes. It is frightening enough to be at the mercy of the elements, hoping that the walls keep the weather out, and the basement stays dry, and the roof remains in place. Hunkering down during a storm is highly underrated. It takes more courage than I ever imagined, and I cannot begin to imagine one of us being out during the worst of it. I honestly don’t think I have what it takes to keep the home together, and stocked, and prepared. Sure, I can put beer in the fridge, and get cans of tuna and a manual opener, but can I keep my emotions in check when the house is shaking and the person I love is not there?
Being prepared is harder than responding. True strength of character is necessary, as well as leadership, courage, and faith. Anybody can take care of things after they happen, waiting for and being ready for anything that might happen, and doing so when you are terrified and your other half is gone takes a special person.
Storms will come, and storms will go, and each one is different in its intensity and potential for inflicting damage. Hurricane Sandy was a doozy, blazing a path of death and destruction through the eastern states. Truly heroic acts were performed by our first responders, and I watched the events over and over on my TV, proud to be part of that world, all the while humbled and awed by the heroes under my own roof.
Captain Michael Morse is a Rescue Captain in the Providence Fire Department’s rescue unit and author of two books: “Rescuing Providence” and “Responding.” His blog was voted the winner of the 2012 CalCas Battle of the Blogs ‘Top Firefighter & EMT Blog.’ Cpt. Morses’s books & blog are great resources for EMTs and Firefighters- full of advice, news briefs, and day-to-day insider stories. To learn more about Captain Morse, check out our interview with him!