A Garden-Variety Fire Dept. Rescue Story: Talking with the Firefighter Educators of the IAFF

Fire_Company_Engine_4 by Jess Mann CC Wikimedia Commons.jpg

"Hello, uh ... is this the fire department?"

"Yes it is, sir."

"Hi. I'm sitting in my car right now — I've been here for a couple of hours already and I think I'm going to need some help getting out of it."

"Sir?"

"It's my back. I was working in the garden, pulling up hostas ... you know, those plants. It was man vs. hosta and unfortunately the hostas won. I crawled over to my car because it was the closest place I could get to but now I'm stuck."

"Sir, what’s your address?"

 Some garden-variety hostas. They look so innocent … but DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THEM.

Some garden-variety hostas. They look so innocent … but DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THEM.

I kid you not, in less than four minutes from the time she hung up, I was being carried into my house on a backboard by the crew from the local firehouse. I called the firehouse instead of 911 because I had already met these neighborhood heroes once, a while back when I witnessed them rescuing a worker who got injured in the lot behind my house. So I knew they were great guys and I'd be in good hands.

They got me into the house pronto and the next day I got backboarded back into an ambulance for some lovely R&R at the ER and then eventually a hospital bed to recover from my back blowout.

Those stubborn hostas had apparently done a dorsal doozy on my pivotal lower back muscles. As I soon learned from my admitting ER doc, those muscles needed some time to repair and their way of letting us know that is with a magnificent chorus of stabbing and debilitating pains when it's time to stay down instead of getting up.

Fortunately, I walked out under my own power two days later. My back is back to 100% now, but I learned my lesson and hired out the removal of the remainder of those feisty hostas. My philosophy now is that hostas are kind of like alligators. If you've got one in your yard, don't try to deal with it yourself. Let the pros tackle it.

But my larger point is this: flash forward about a month after my fire department rescue, and guess who I wind up speaking to at a conference?

If you guessed "a group of firefighters," you're quicker on the uptake than I was that day in my garden. Specifically, I was talking to a group of firefighter educators — the instructors who teach other firefighters to be safer, smarter, better firefighters. They also train rookies, of course, but you probably know that because you've watched Chicago Fire, or Rescue 911, so you're up on how it all rolls. I wasn't. But of course firefighters need teachers too — and those teachers also need to be firefighters themselves, which puts them in a pretty special class.

So I was honored to be invited by the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) to share some ideas, inspiration, and best practices as a motivational keynote speaker at their annual Instructor Development Conference in San Antonio, TX earlier this month, which brought together instructors from all of IAFF's training programs. My helmet is off to these doubly skilled professionals who help keep us all safe.

Unfortunately at the conference I didn’t run into any of those amazing Chicago firefighters who got me to and from car, home, and hospital with the loving care of a very strong grandmother. (Along with a few friendly chuckles about the bad-back gardener.) it's reassuring to know they're here in the neighborhood, though. You never know when a hosta might turn hostile on you.

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P.S. Back on the Subject of Backs for a Minute ...

My physical therapist at the hospital was a wise older gentleman, an Obi-Won of the spine. He's seen a lot and knew a lot. He gave me a great book, Treat Your Own Back by Robin McKenzie. Buy this if you've ever had back issues ... but here are the Cliff's Notes.

Sitting incorrectly causes most of these problems — along with sitting, period. Avoid doing stupid things that put your back in its worst place, like bending over at a 90-degree angle and other slouchy things. Lastly, and this helped me the most, really take time to review how you move throughout the day. Make a list and improve in little ways all those times you don't have your back in its best form. That's pretty much about it. Thanks again to all the firefighters who led me to these mid-life improvements.

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Photo Credits:
Fire engine photo by Jess Mann, via Wikimedia Commons.
Hostas photo by Hardyplants, via Wikimedia Commons.