There’s something oddly intimate about the knowledge of the world’s brokenness that comes in professions where you are consistently exposed to death and destruction. A great deal of this happens after dark, and while the majority of the world sleeps, others are sitting watch, bearing witness to that which most will never see.
This has always struck me going into a shift at the firehouse, but most poignantly on night works. For whom will this be the last sunset? Whose life will end or be forever altered by the time I’m relieved in the morning? Be it a fire, an accident, a shooting. Whose personal disaster will unfold in front of me and what role will I play in it?
And then there is the sunrise. Felt most intensely if you are still operating on an incident while watching it occur. Followed by that moment of silence when you first get in your car to head home, the torch of responsibility passed on to someone else. It can be hard to describe the impact of that ride, watching those on their morning commute pass you blissfully unaware of what unfolded the night before. It's a new day, and the world keeps turning. But you know a secret.
The fluctuation of chaos to calm and back again is one of the unique features, and I dare say benefits, to public service professions. The sunrise always tastes sweeter when you’re familiar with the bitterness of the night…
Photo: Sunrise over the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, several hours into an All Hands plus fire with collapse, preceded by a field amputation of casualty trapped beneath a freight train locomotive.