From the Jewelry Store to the Fire Station

Arthritis attacked my ring finger, and I could no longer get my wedding ring off.  I tried everything: holding my hand in the air to maybe reduce the swelling, icing my finger, slathering on the slipperiest soap I could find.  Nothing worked.  The tissue was getting smothered, so I needed to get the ring cut off.  So off I went to the jeweler.  No problem, right?  Nope.  My jeweler sent me to the fire station.  Yes, the fire station.

The lieutenant met me at the door, having been warned of my arrival.  He took me into the heart of the fire station, the kitchen.  Well, okay, it was really a great room with comfortable recliners, television, tables, and more, in addition to the kitchen, all set up for lunch preparation.  Fruit salad, cauliflower…  But I digress.

He seated me at the table, and suddenly, I was surrounded by seven firefighters.  Seven?  Come on!  How many do you need to cut off one little ring?  You’re not amputating or anything…Or are you?!  Are they here to staunch the flow of blood?  They are paramedics and EMTs, after all.  They assured me that some recent hires had not been trained on this procedure yet.  And everybody else was just interested, I guess.  It felt like a teaching hospital, where students and interns crowd around to observe and commiserate.  They opened their handy-dandy tool box and pulled out what looked like a palette knife, not sharp or pointed, to slide under the ring so they could use the circular-bladed diamond-edged saw… a saw?…to cut through the ring.  Just as they went to plug it in, someone noticed the ambulance pulling in.  “They’ve got the best tool,” one said.  “Better than this saw.”  I exhaled.

The ambulance’s ring cutter is really nifty.  “Turn your hand palm up, please.”  A thin metal “tongue” slides under the ring.  Coming down on the ring itself is a torture device.  No, I’m kidding!  There is however, what looks like a medieval thumb screw designed to get people to confess to anything.  The lieutenant screwed down the device, lowering a thin blade onto the ring, which sliced through the gold band like butter.  Pull the ring’s edges apart and ta-da!, my ring came free.  Hooray!  “Good thing it was gold,” they told me.  “Gold is soft.  But some of those other metals, like titanium, are so hard, we have to crack the ring rather than get a nice clean cut.”

So why do they have a ring cutter in the first place?  Picture a car accident, or a farm accident, where a hand needs to be freed from…something, but a ring is impeding progress.  Hence, the ring cutter.  That little beauty lives in the ambulance, though, not the fire station.  So, if you’re looking for a Christmas present for those amazing men and women, buy a ring cutter for the fire station.  You can get them on Amazon for under $15.  (You think I’m kidding; I’m not.  When it comes time to cut your ring off, would you rather have a spinning drill bit or a simple protected blade come down towards your finger?)

What else do these wonderful folk do?  After all, the city had close to 9,300 callouts last year alone.  They couldn’t all be fires.  I had to go back.

After a phone call and a cookie delivery, I was talking with the firefighters again.  Turns out, fire stations have the equipment to do all sorts of things, things the general public are…well, generally unaware of.

Many of the calls are for industrial or mechanical extractions, which is just what it sounds like: getting people out of something or somewhere dangerous.  Like the person who cleans the snowblower auger without turning it off first.  That’s more than ouch!  Water or ice rescues too.  Kids get heads caught in fences or even highchairs, cats get trapped inside walls (there’s a snaky camera for location of said feline), construction workers get buried when trenches collapse.  Check your portable chair in the shower; does it have a slit in the center to drain water?  Cover it with a washcloth, please, so no…um, body part can get trapped in the slit.  Anywhere there’s a confined space, someone, or some animal, is bound to need extraction.  Yes, they do rescue animals too.  They showed me workers on a cell tower just outside.  If one of those workers has a medical emergency, off the firefighters go to rescue the individual.  As you can see, firefighters go from the heights to the depths.

They work with the police in tactical situations; hence, the helmets, body armor, and hazmat suits.  Unfortunately, those suits got a workout during Covid.  Especially challenging if the person had no pulse and wasn’t breathing…and had Covid on top of it.  Speaking of, did you ever wonder why they send out a fire truck and an ambulance?  If someone has chest pains, they need five firefighters, so out goes one truck and an ambulance.  If someone is not breathing and has no pulse, you get an ambulance and two firetrucks.  Is that not overkill?  Not at all.  Then they need both EMTs and paramedics.  Which means they need all those professionals.  EMTs can do certain things, such as monitoring things and helping stabilize, but paramedics can do medication for pain management, intubate, and insert IVs.  And now, they have a machine for chest compression, and another for breathing.  Everything is regulated to give the maximum effect needed.

Firefighters do lots of other stuff too, like bringing the trucks to community events and letting people peer into the innards.  They work with Waukesha County Technical College for training and ridealongs, as well as work with high schoolers interested in the field.  If any of us get into trouble on a grand scale, we know these are people in top physical form.  Just carrying all that equipment on a body already burdened with heavy safety clothing is tough.  But not only physically healthy, they must remain psychologically healthy.  After a situation, such as the devastation caused by a wild driver through a Christmas parade here in town, these folks have to power down and deal with the trauma that they carry back to the firestation.  I was very glad to hear them assure me of the services of a counselor, and laud the service as well.

So, the next time you see firefighters in the grocery store, say hi and tell them thanks.  Don’t think they’re not on duty!  Check out the radios crackling on their belt.  Notice the big red truck, with a waiting driver, out in the parking lot.  And get out of the way if they have to abandon their grocery cart in the middle of shopping, because they’re being called out to perform a service for…you, Citizen!