It was late on Friday night when I was driving home from St. Cloud. I just saw "Avengers: Endgame" in theaters for the fifth time since April. I went to the movie with my dad - the man that brought me to my first comic book movie when I was a kid. As I drove home I felt completely empty. I didn't have music or a podcast playing. The car was silent.
When the movie ended, my dad looked at me and asked if I heard about the news. Earlier that morning a North Memorial Air Care helicopter crashed at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. The crash killed two people and left another in critical condition.
For 22 years, Joe Rubado has been a member of the Brainerd Fire Department. When I was a kid, he told me about how he tried to get into the Navy but wasn't admitted because of a medical hiccup. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him because he was able to meet my mom and start a family while still serving people as a firefighter.
I never worried about him. Fire departments, like all first responders, go through extensive training to prepare for the unpreparable. I never worried about him until last Friday.
As the credits were rolling I told him that I heard about the accident and I asked how bad it was. He looked away for a brief second and said, "For the first time in over 20 years I didn't bring my pager to bed with me." He missed the call.
He told me that he was glad he didn't have to be there - saying that some of the guys were having a tough time coping with what they saw. I knew he was lying. I could see the guilt on his face. He felt like he should've been there. He felt like he should have to feel what his team feels.
As I drove home, I thought about the number of fatality calls he's responded to over the last two decades. How many times has he pulled a dead body out of a vehicle? How many times did he personally know who passed away in these tragic accidents?
Normally, I am numb to this kind of news. I hear about an accident or a fire and I'm able to understand that it's tragic and people are suffering, but don't feel anything. When your dad comes home several times a week with a new story to tell, you build up an emotional tolerance to stuff like this. However, I never considered the toll that being a first responder can take on one's sanity.
It takes a special kind of person to be able to do the things that first responders do. The job is rarely life or death like it's perceived to be. Being a first responder is about some of the toughest people in the world having the mental capacity to do what others can't. It takes a special kind of person to willingly put themselves in a situation like the one that occurred last Friday.
I called my dad on Monday night to ask him how he was doing. He had just gotten out of a stress debriefing session. First responders are provided services to help cope in times like this.
I believe that first responders are greatly appreciated. The efforts they give to their communities are recognized to the fullest. What I don't think people fully understand is the days following a tragedy are the hardest for these men and women.
I can't speak for all first responders, but I believe I can speak for my dad when I say that he doesn't do it for the money. For him, it's about giving back to the community. It's about doing the job he feels he's called upon to do.
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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.