Thank You Fireman Al

I wanted to say something at Fireman Al’s retirement party yesterday. Something about how he saved my life, and something about how he not only responds when living people need help in an emergency, but that he is the one who shows up when they die, at home, in bed, or in many other, less gentle ways, and how solid he is then, when everyone around him is shattered. Al drives the hearse too—the old ambulance—to the cemetery, and helps lift caskets out and get them settled for the pallbearers. I wanted to thank him for that, and I should have. But I didn’t want to cry and everyone else spoke so well. 

For a minute, I thought I could lighten the mood, by mentioning the weekly Safety Talk on KHNS and how Al has reminded us to never throw a match in a waste basket full of paper, or toss an anchor over without making sure the anchor-line is attached and cleated— and even how, when we are traveling, to make sure we leave our wallet and shoes by the hotel room door in case there is a fire and we need to crawl out in the dark, quickly. (Which is why I can’t sleep in hotels…)

But then longtime fire department volunteer and chief Scott Bradford illustrated Al’s dedication to his calling—and I would say helping people in distress is Al’s calling—by noting how Al was the best man at his wedding 20 years ago, but a plane crashed on a glacier that morning, so they postponed the ceremony until Al returned later in the day. Scott didn’t say what Al had seen and done on that call before standing up for him on the happiest day of his life, and making sure he gave a toast and added to the joy.--- Bodies in a wreck. Grieving airline workers. Family. Other responders --who knows? It doesn’t take much to imagine the scene. That’s what Al has carried for us for 27 years. It’s very heavy. 

When it was Al's turn to speak, he thanked everyone for coming to the party and assured us that he is only one small part of a larger 50-person department and that we are good in hands. We know that. But when he said the reason we like him so much is because he’s been around so long, Al was the only one in room who believed it. 

Then he said that most of the ambulance calls turn out okay, or may be the result of an expected problem— but that some don’t. And his face crumpled a bit, and he cleared his throat, and quietly thanked his wife for being there in the hours after those harder calls, and we gave him a standing ovation. 

Some people of faith say that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. I don’t believe God inflicts pain.  If I did I wouldn’t go to church.  I believe that God will not leave us comfortless. The face on what that kind of grace looks like for all of my adult life, has been Al’s. He saved my life once. But he has made it better many, many times. I don’t think thank you is enough. But what else can I say? 

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