Units on the air, standby for the box…

Those words used to make me run.  That is the pre-empt our dispatch gives us when one of their call taker colleagues shouts across the dispatch center “Box going out!”

It means there’s a fire.

In my new staff role I haven’t answered a 911 call, EMS or fire in months.  I’ll be honest, it’s weird.

But today I was in the Chief’s Secretary’s office getting ready for a hospital meeting and heard those words I used to dream of, “Units on the air stand by for the box…”

And I almost didn’t notice.

The light duty firefighters nearby huddled around the radio as the first in engine reported heavy fire from the third floor.  I was more focused on the dozen cases being presented at my meeting and how I would defend the actions of my Paramedics if questioned.

I think I’ve made a turn.

We can all agree my life has been more patient focused than fire, but I never realized how little I would miss the engine.  It kind of makes me wonder if I just accepted the engine work because it meant more patients.  Engine work is pretty straight forward when you boil it down, especially for a layout guy like I was.  Not easy, just straight forward.

“Standby for the box” was what I heard the morning a ceiling fell on me.  “Stand by for the box” is what Vince and Tony heard on the way to the fire that claimed their lives.  And at this moment, when all my brothers and sisters were hearing those same words and stepping up to answer the call, my mind was elsewhere.

It was a powerful moment for me, difficult to describe, even reading this short explanation leaves so much emotion out I wonder if posting this is even worth it.

The drive to the meeting took me near the fire, but not close enough to get caught up in the chaos.  On the way I thought about what I should write about on the blog and nothing came to mind.  All I wanted to do was get to that meeting and remind the doctors and nurses that the reason they can have a meeting about patients who are still alive is because my guys and gals did their jobs.

I can still throw a 24′ aluminum and take a pole on the 50′, advance a 1 3/4″ up a stairwell or re-position the aerial, but my main focus, my passion and my drive is that little room on the third floor where I get to stand up for good patient care.

Call me crazy, but I’m happy.  Stressed, confused, scattered and unsure, but happy.


Standby for the box…You guys get this one.  Let me know if anyone’s hurt.

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2 thoughts on “Units on the air, standby for the box…”

  1. People who have never been conditioned to respond to hearing a dispatcher, whether over a radio, or a pager, or whatever, have no idea how ingrained that response becomes. I find it incredibly amusing that we can be at someone else’s firehouse for some reason, or even having run into a pal from a different department at the grocery sore, and if the pager talks, even if, by the tones, we know it isn’t for us, the conversation will pause to hear what is going on, and resume when the dispatch is over. No one hushes anyone, it just happens.
    Some of it is that the people involved in emergency services tend to be people who want to know what is going on, and a lot of it is that whoever is responding to that call is likely someone we know, and we want to send good thoughts their way.
    When it is our OWN tones… that is a totally different response. Immediate shift of focus.
    So for you to have developed a new response, especially for it to be one of not paying attention to it, is fairly remarkable. Trying to put it into words may be impossible- but I bet a lot of people out here have some idea why it is emotional for you.
    I must confess, when I first heard you were leaving the field, I was somewhat sorry for all the patients who wouldn’t get you. On the other hand, I know that people in positions like yours can have such a huge effect on what happens in the field that I’m glad you’re doing that. Since there aren’t two of you, the world just has to settle for you doing one job. I know you must have had, and still be having, all sorts of different feelings. I’m glad you’re happy. May it always be so.

  2. I will disagree with you on one point. There is a ton of emotion in this post, and your feelings about “the box” are evident. That being said, I’m glad there are passionate people like you who are advocating on behalf of front line responders!

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