The word can send chills down a man’s spine. It’s a word we frequently don’t want to respond to. Why do we do what we do? Why did we say what we said? Why did we go and not stay. Sometimes, the answer is just too silly to say out loud. Sometimes, the answer is too painful to share. Sometimes, we simply don’t know. Sometimes, we can’t possibly find the words to explain ourselves.
Back in my relative youth, the local volunteer ambulance corps was a big part of my life. I loved answering the alarms and reaching out to help my neighbors. (I will admit that I also loved to throw the siren on and have my way in traffic.) Later, I was lucky enough to land a paid job with a small emergency services company before deciding that I preferred to stay dryer and safer working in the emergency room.
Often times, there were days when every iota of common sense told me to stay home. There was snow, ice, and flooding rains covering the roads. There was smoke, gas or leaking chemicals in the air. There was anger, grief and emotions in the crowds. The little voice in my head would say, “Let someone else handle it.” But the stronger conscience wouldn’t allow it; and off I went.
Then one day, the little voice was my daughter’s. Lightning was flashing, thunder was booming and the rain made it hard to see across the street. It was a Nor’easter battering our New Jersey home. It wouldn’t be a Sandy or even an Isaac; but it was called a “100-year-storm”. The full moon, high tide and volume of rain joined forces to flood parts of our town. And naturally, I was on the ambulance when the power to our house went out.
My partners and I stopped back at my house to load up my family and bring them somewhere with power. It was the safest place in the world for them, I thought. It was Grandma’s house. But as we delivered them out of the darkness to the waiting hot chocolate and hugs, my three girls cried and cried. They clung to me as I handed them over to their grandparents; refusing to let go. “Why?” they asked. “Why can’t you stay here with us?”
There was no answer. Their mother and grandmother coaxed them into the house as I raced off to answer another alarm.
There was simply no answer.
In the many (many!) years since, we’ve seen bigger and bigger disasters throughout the country and the world. There have been bigger, more dangerous storms. There have been industrial accidents and train derailments. There have been massive forest fires and airplane crashes. Earthquakes, floods and landslides abound. And then there is today’s most dangerous threat, terrorism and war.
And in every single scenario, on every single news feed CNN can send us, there is one constant: emergency medical service workers running to the scene. They may be Red Cross or army corpsmen. They may be fire department or hospital paramedics. They may be emergency medical technicians from paid or municipal companies. They may be your own neighbor, volunteering his time. But they all have something in common. That is this indescribable, unexplainable, irresistible, often non-sensible urge… a need, to respond.
I never found words or even tried to explain to my girls why I had to leave them and get back on the ambulance that night. Nor did I find the words during other snowstorms, nor’easters or heatwaves. It proved impossible to explain why I left birthday parties, Christmas dinner, or movie nights to help total strangers. I still can’t make some people understand why even today I get anxious while watching others respond to events half a world away. Part of me wants to be there still.
EMS is a brotherhood (with amazing sisters) who holds a secret. When you ask any EMS worker what that secret is, they’re not really trying to hide it. It’s just that none of them really has a way to accurately explain it. It’s just something hidden deep in their hearts. It is a part of them; a part they can’t do without.
That is why, today’s emergency service workers around the world, need our prayers. It is also why their families and friends need our prayers too.
This is EMS Week in the USA. If you can afford to buy coffee for your local ambulance squad, please do so. But at the very least, pray this week and frequently thereafter. Pray for the health, safety, skills and future of all the EMS workers. And pray just as hard for their families. Pray not just that the families will be safe while their parents, children and spouses are running into service; but also that God will touch their hearts and minds to understand what it is that drives this amazing band of men and women.
HAPPY EMS WEEK TO MY PARAMEDIC BROTHER FLYING AROUND NJ SOMEWHERE, MY OTHER EMS FRIENDS AND ALL THE WORLD’S EMS WORKERS! MAY GOD BLESS AND PROTECT YOU ALWAYS!
"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)