What Firefighters Know About Not Giving Up

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by Melody Fletcher on May 1, 2012

The following is a guest post by Stewart Mason from Positive Paradise.

I have been a Firefighter on active duty for close to twenty years now, the last ten as a Crew Commander in charge of a team of Firefighters, and I feel it is sometimes helpful to pass on some of the lessons learned during that time for the benefit of other people.

What follows is not so much a lesson, but a real example of the benefits of having a positive state of mind, and of not giving up. If you couple that with the determination to make a difference in someone’s life, amazing things can happen.

A unique perspective

When a person joins the Fire Service all sorts of changes happen in their life and they become immersed in new experiences, some of them good, and some of them not quite so good. Part of that change is that you get to see and do things that many people will never see in their lifetime, and so for me, part of a Firefighter’s unofficial role is to relay these experiences to people, perhaps friends and relatives, or here to Melody’s readers, so that they can understand another part of the wider human experience, and perhaps gain benefit and knowledge from what was previously only somebody else’s misfortune.

One thing that you learn quickly as a new Firefighter, is that in some situations, you can never, ever, give up, and I think that on this point I need to elaborate. I will use the example of what we call an RTC. A ‘Road Traffic Collision’.


When we arrive at an RTC, it is not unusual that we have been called to the scene because someone is trapped in their vehicle as the result of a crash. Before we board the Fire Engine, we pick up the printer message on station that tells us the location of the incident and sometimes near the top of the message, are six letters that flood us all with adrenaline without exception. RTC PRT. Six letters that to anyone else would look perfectly innocent, but to a Firefighter they convey an image of injury, pain, destruction, and imminent death. RTC PRT. Road Traffic Collision, Persons Reported Trapped.

Often when we arrive on scene we find that other emergency services have tried to affect a rescue and failed. Police, Ambulance, even other motorists, have tried the tools available to them and had little or no effect. When we arrive, we assess the scene and then deploy the tools we need to do the job. And impressive tools they are, too. Heavy cutting tools, rams, spreaders – all powered by hydraulics, with forces measured in many tons. These are often our casualty’s only hope of rescue. And time is critical.

When all plans fail

But there sometimes comes that day, that fateful ‘shout’ where plan A fails. And plan B, and plan C. By the time D, E, and F have had their ineffective turn, we can rightly start to worry.

Our unlucky motorist is still trapped, and every effort to separate them from tangled metalwork has come to nothing. We cut, bend, spread, pry, lever, and twist, and still cannot create an aperture big enough to get this person out of their smashed vehicle. This impossibly frail person composed of soft tissue, blood, and muscle, is surrounded and held prisoner by a vehicle designed to protect them. Often the designers of these vehicles seem to have done their job too well, and although the occupant may still be alive in spite of terrible injuries and the horrific state of the vehicle, actually getting past the various safety systems to reach them can sometimes seem to be an impossible task.

The vehicle and its occupant may both be leaking vital fluids, and for the vehicle it’s usually end game, but for its precious cargo there is still time, and time is running out. With every minute that ticks by, there is less chance of recovery, less chance for this person to live a full and happy life, and somewhere out there are husbands, wives, parents and children, waiting for this person to come back to them, and that isn’t going to happen if we don’t accomplish our task.

As a crew commander, at times like these it is tempting to stop, stand back, and hand over the reins. To look around for someone more competent, more knowledgeable, more in wise and in control. And it is at this moment that the realization hits you like a brick.

There is no one. It’s you.

You are in charge and the fate of this person hangs on your decisions. Every choice you have made in life has brought you to this point. An unimaginable number of infinite possibilities have brought you to this road, on this dark, rain soaked night.

You look at the injured person, you get his name, you talk to him, reassure him, and you tell him it will be O.K. Your lives have intersected here, and he needs your help. You look back and you see your friends in his place, your family, your loved ones. What would you do if it was them? You would move heaven and earth to save them, and it is no different to what you will do for this man. This stranger.

So you carry on, you think hard and fast, drawing on every resource you have, every tip and technique, you try to think back to every training course, you search your mind for every snippet of knowledge you have, because something has to work. You cannot give up.

And you know what? In these situations, we don’t give up. Ever.

We keep trying, even when it looks hopeless

There is always a way, always something that can be done, it may take time, it may involve some creative thinking, but you find a way. Something comes to you, an idea, an image, a mix of suggestions that can be combined to provide a solution. The answers are always there, and sometimes, it’s when it’s down to the wire, that the solution comes to you. A flash of inspiration that will carry you forward to success. And it would have been so easy to give up! If you did you would never have known how close you were to success. Your salvation came at your lowest ebb.

This obviously works in your personal life too. I’m not saying that you must persevere in every situation you face, but when our fellow human beings are involved, we go the extra mile and even put our own personal safety at risk, because we are brothers and sisters. We are at our very core, beings of love and compassion.

We rise to the challenge

If the situation demands it, we are able to release untold levels of stamina and endurance, accomplish amazing feats, because our bodies are equipped for it. We are built to think fast, think on our feet, and come up with workable solutions, and these abilities have seen us thrive as a species since the dawn of man.

Too often we give up and turn away because we think we’re not up to the task, or that our efforts are not worthy, but everyone has their part to play. It might be your contribution that saves the day, your idea that provides the solution, your insight that helps all the others see the way.

So the next time you come up against a challenge and all your plans seem to be failing, keep going, keep trying to find a way. And if your goal is one that will benefit someone other than yourself, however small, then think like a Firefighter, stay positive, and don’t give up. The solution is always out there.

Stewart Mason is a positive thinker, futurist, and keen visionary as well as a serving Firefighter. The aim of his blog, Positive Paradise Project, is to explore and develop exciting new tools and techniques, with the aim of passing on his knowledge for the benefit of anyone who believes that tomorrow will be amazing.







Vidya Sury May 1, 2012 at 17:47

First, a standing salute to firefighters. Each time I hear the siren ring, I am thinking more about the men who put their lives on the line, making good decisions, no matter what time of day or night, with the single goal of saving lives. Unsung heroes.

Excellent post, Stewart. So glad to read it. Thank you.
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Stewart May 1, 2012 at 18:17

Hi Vida. Thank you for your kind words. I am eternally grateful for the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s quite an opportunity!
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Mary Carol May 1, 2012 at 17:51

Great post, Stewart!

I immediately high tailed it over to your blog and read some more – thank you for a great Tuesday morning boost!

Your post reminds me of a story I read sometime this year. It included a video of a group of people lifting a car off what they thought would be a dead body. All these ordinary passersby ran over and just lifted the car, which in no way should they have been able to do. Someone pulled the body out from under, and he was alive. The report said he was going to be okay.

What a great message in your post – learn all you can, get yourself great tools, and then give yourself permission to think outside the box. If we commit ourselves to whatever we’re doing as if someone’s life was at stake, we’re guaranteed to be in the moment, living fully!

Thanks again. You have a new fan! Hugs,

Mary Carol
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Stewart May 1, 2012 at 18:31

Thank you Mary Carol!
There are so many analogies I can carry over to my ‘civvy’ life from my Fire Service experience. It never ceases to amaze me what a group of focused, capable people can achieve given the right tools and training. Thinking outside the box is so important too. I’ve always tried to take the advice that you must do things differently to get different results. Sometimes ‘tried and tested’ doesn’t cut it!
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Elle May 1, 2012 at 18:01

Wow…this post tingled my toes. I’m so full of admiration and respect for firefighters in general and now you in particular Stewart. Thank you for sharing.
Encourage one another.
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Stewart May 1, 2012 at 18:33

Thank you so much Elle. We just ‘Do the best we can, with what we have, where we are’
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Nathalie May 1, 2012 at 19:35

Thank you for this post, Stewart. Almost 30 years ago, it was a firefighter like yourself who rescued a trapped and terribly injured man from a horrific car wreck. His wife, unfortunately, did not survive; but the man lived, and after over a month in the hospital, he was finally able return home to his two little girls.

That man was my father.
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Stewart May 1, 2012 at 22:09

Nathalie, it never gets any easier. We Firefighters have our unofficial support network, and a meeting place (we go to the pub….) but we never really hear what happens to the people we rescue. Each and every bad accident is just the tip of a pyramid of human suffering. I hope the survivors can find their way to grieve and move on, and have peace in the knowledge that those from the emergency services who attended did their utmost to help, and that people like me make sure that the injured or dying person spent their last minutes surrounded by people who care.
Your words make sure I will continue to do that to the best of my ability.
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Aileen May 2, 2012 at 10:32

Your words gave me chills and brought tears to me eyes. Makes me see my own challenges as not challenging at all – widens my perspective.
How incredible that you’ve chosen a path where you must be larger than your fears on a regular basis.
Thank you for sharing your perspective.
I look forward to reading your blog.

Stewart May 2, 2012 at 19:49

Hi Aileen. Sometimes the job really is scary, but we’re usually so focused on doing a good job and trying to be as professional as possible, we forget about being scared.
It’s usually the case that no matter how bad our day is, it’s not as bad as the one the person we’re trying to help is having!

Face your fears, and do it anyway!
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Derrek May 3, 2012 at 07:14

You know how everyone says that it’d be so cool if superheroes like Spider-Man or Thor were around to save the day every time someone’s in trouble? Well after 9/11, the creators and writers behind Marvel comics made a special commemorative issue that came with a nothing-but-black cover, and in that issue earth’s mightiest heroes like Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, and the X-Men paid tribute to not only the ones we lost in the towers, but also to our fallen heroes in uniform.

In the issue, our favorite superheroes salute the policemen, firemen, medics and everyone who was on duty by saying that no matter how powerful they may be as superheroes, they wouldn’t have been able to tackle the tragedy without the help of the men and women in uniform, and that those without superpowers were the real heroes on that day.

I bring this up because your story reminded me that firemen are a pretty badass, and you deserve all the praise you can get for putting your safety on the line way too often. Awesome article, Stewart. It was really inspirational and a gentle reminder that we should never ever give up trying if we want to achieve something bad enough.

Stewart May 3, 2012 at 18:11

Hi Derrek! Wow that’s fantastic! I always loved comics as a boy, and Superman was my favourite hero.
I visited ground zero a few years after 9/11, and like many others, I wept for my fallen brothers and sisters. Visiting that place only reinforced the feeling inside me that no matter what happens, we never give up, we persevere and overcome against all the negativity and those who wish us harm. Despite what the media would have us think, the world is full of amazing people, and even the most unlikely person can become a hero and save the day. We’re not just crude skin and bone, inside us all is something truly golden.
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Kat September 16, 2012 at 16:03

Wow, Stewart, what a wonderful, moving article. I got so teary-eyed reading it. Life presents struggles, yet we need the proper attitude to get through it okay. Making lemonade out of lemons is my motto, what can I say?

My hat goes off to you guys! You show courage and determination and inspire us all. Thank you!

Stewart September 20, 2012 at 21:15

Hi Kat.
Yes, attitude is everything. I subscribe to the ‘It’s a good world with occasional bad parts (that we learn from)’ viewpoint!
I’ve certainly had more than a few glasses of lemonade!
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