One of Our Own…

The subject line in the email from our chief read “One of Our Own”. So, I 0pened it. I opened it expecting to see that somebody else had written an article that would be published or had been accepted into some study by UL or was getting an award.

I’d gotten too used to good news.

Stacey Boulware went to training this morning with her crew. She passed our annual physical fitness test or, as we all called it, the PAT (Physical Abilities Test). I heard later that she wasn’t super happy with her time but she passed it. She was active, I’d say even athletic, but she wanted to do better. That’s what firefighters with any heart want to always do, better.

She went back to the station, ran a wreck with injuries and a full arrest. Then she started complaining of burning chest pain. She was assigned to an ALS station. The only place more prepared for a cardiac arrest is a cardiac intensive care unit. But even that wouldn’t have saved Stacey. She suffered a massive Myocardial Infarction, a massive heart attack.

Massive but a heart attack that could have been predicted, anticipated…avoided…mitigated…through a proactive check-up, calcium scan, EKG, etc. Things which were pitched at our department on numerous occasions but  we never had “the money for” then but do now.

Post tragedy as usual.

So, her crew requested an ambulance, put her on a monitor, saw some EKG changes, mumbled “Oh crap” and then, when she arrested…worked on their co-worker…their sister.

I’ve been to firefighter funerals, too stinking many of them since 1985. My first partner died from an overdose of morphine given to him inadvertently in the ER for kidney stones in the mid 80’s. I was a pall bearer. I guess God knew that was a good way to break the ice. Throw me in the deep end so to speak.

There would be more to come, cancer deaths and heart attacks mainly. Some of the guys I knew really well. Eddie Pittman the first Engineer I worked with when I came to Cobb County and a trout fishing buddy. Cancer got him. Vince Makar, the most loveable grouch I ever knew, died of cancer too. Hank Hopkins was the guy we all called “Hankenstein” and a legend in our department. His wife found him dead from a cardiac event in his bathroom at home. Charles Blackwell, lots of laughs at Cobb County Station 5 and a running buddy in my single days, cancer again. That was just a couple of months ago. There’s plenty…. plenty more. But this was my first true line of duty death.

What made Stacey’s death hit home more closely? I don’t know why it happening on shift, at the station, after training, after running calls took the wind out of me more than some of the others, but it did. With all the others I guess it was in the back of my mind that it may be me…someday. This one made me realize that it could be me…any day.

To say that Stacey and I were close wouldn’t be true. In a department of around 700 personnel there are lots folks that you cross paths with, you know and appreciate, you enjoy seeing, but that you never have the chance to share quality time with. Stacey was one of those.

She was a true loss to our department though. I know that. I know from a personal standpoint, and the entire department will attest to this, she was always smiling. Always. That affected everyone around her.

Professionally, she had a quality that is becoming more and more rare. It’s called selflessness. When she was at Station 22 they responded to an entire family, several kids, found dead in an apartment. I can’t remember the cause but I think it was something more sinister than a carbon monoxide leak. Murder, suicide maybe. Regardless nobody wants to see that scene, and nobody should have to, but there are lots of things we shouldn’t have to do and see on this job. Aren’t there? Somebody has to go in and confirm that everyone is deceased. Stacey’s crew members had children. She didn’t. “I’ll go in.”. Thinking of the needs of others. That wouldn’t cross a lot of our minds but it crossed her mind and more. She actually acted on it.

There were many similarities to Stacey’s funeral and so many of the others that I’ve been to; the Cobb County Fire Honor Guard, hundreds of us dressed in our Class A’s, the bagpipes, the distant wail of the Federal Q. Her service took those things and made it as if you were experiencing them in HD. The one significant difference? A Deputy Chief sounding the 5-5-5 on a large bell at the eulogy. That brings it home.

Stacey, you made a difference, with the citizens, with your fellow firefighters. And you’re going to forever make a difference. It was always in the back of our minds that, someday, it can be our department losing someone. But I don’t think we really believed it. If we really did there are so many things we’d already do differently; wear our mask all the way through overhaul operations, get regular checkups, have cardiac screenings, run a mile…more often.

But you dear Stacey confirmed it for us all. It can happen to us because it did happen to us. Your death was a wakeup call we needed. Your life wasn’t for nothing and your death won’t be either.

May the Lord have mercy on you Stacey and your memory be eternal.

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