I recently attended the annual Camp ‘Can’ Do held at Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island in Charleston. If you are not familiar with Camp ‘Can’ Do, the South Carolina Burned Children’s Fund and the Medical University of South Carolina’s Pediatric Burn Center co-sponsor the event, which is specifically designed for burned children. It is truly a sight to see as all the volunteer nurses, firefighters and support staff work tirelessly to provide the attendees an incredible experience. The time spent providing each camper with arts, crafts, games and activities is only surpassed by the massive amount of time spent in planning and logistical support of the event. I would be remiss if I did not mention Jill Evans, coordinator of pediatric burn services at MUSC. Since its inception, Jill has directed the camp and this was her last year leading it, as she is retiring. I did not discover news about her retirement until I arrived at the camp. When I spoke to Jill I offered her my thanks for her more than two decades of hard work and congratulations on her retirement. I also told her that I wished there was a way to quantify the number of lives she has made better through her many years of tireless service. She responded with a humble and modest reply — as great leaders do — that the camp was a “team effort” and that it “was being left in very capable hands.” Looking back, I am sure it is very difficult for her to evaluate just how much of a difference she has had on the lives of the many young children who have experienced such a traumatic event.
But speaking with Jill and thanking her for her leadership was not the best part of my day. I was introduced to two young ladies who were serving as counselors at the camp. The last time I saw them was 13 years ago and they were four and six years old. Tragically, they had been burned in a vehicle fire on Interstate 95. As we do on so many incidents, we treated and transported the patients and never heard from them again. We stored away the tragedy we witnessed, suppressed the emotions surrounding the children’s injuries and went to the next incident hoping that everything turned out OK for the children, but with the understanding that we will never know. Having attended Camp ‘Can’ Do this year, I now know. Both children have grown up to become remarkable young ladies. They volunteer at various burn camps throughout the southeast, assisting other children that have also experienced burn injuries. While speaking with them, all they could do was thank us for what we did for them as it provided them the opportunities they have now to help others. So here I was, 13 years later from turning off the emotions of “another interstate incident” and I was faced with nothing but the emotion of being reunited with these two young ladies. I felt ecstatic that I “now knew” the children had survived their injuries. I felt proud of the lives the two young ladies are now leading. Above everything, I felt honored and proud to be a small part of the response that made a difference in these two young ladies’ lives. While reflecting on the incident on the interstate and talking with the young ladies, I was extremely proud to be part of the fire service.
Working in the fire service, whether as a volunteer or career firefighter is the greatest opportunity that a person can be afforded. We often are desensitized by the calls for “stub toes” or “hiccups,” and that makes it harder for us to be sensitive to the serious calls. Sometimes we get stuck in the routine of checking trucks, cleaning and dealing with the day-to-day activities. This often makes it hard for us to remember what an impact our job has on the lives of others. Through our complaints of the routine and calls that we may consider “non-emergent,” it often takes an event such as the one that happened to me at Camp ‘Can’ Do to re-orient us to how great our job is. We do not often reflect upon this, because we are busy with the routine of our job. Maybe we all need similar reflection on a routine basis.
The fire service is a collective. While our trucks and uniforms look a little different from department to department, those we serve often do not distinguish between you and me, or this department and that department. When they call for service, they simply want fire trucks and ambulances showing up with competent looking people that quickly solve their problem. Because the public does not distinguish between you and me, it means that we are the same. If you don’t believe that, look at the last time a firefighter engaged in something wrong or illegal. The press will report to the public that the individual was a firefighter, or former firefighter. As we are all firefighters, this tarnishes all our reputations. When is the last time you saw the press report that a person was arrested for this crime and they are a banker, or dentist, or in real estate sales? The upside to this is that although we all have the potential to look bad together, we can also all look good together. The press does not report that members from ABC Fire Department, Station 13 on C-shift rescued two people and a cat from a burning building this morning. They simply report that firefighters performed the rescue. Again, we are a collective.
Since it is not my fire service or your fire service, but rather our fire service, I wanted to share with you the excellent job you did on the interstate at that call 13 years ago. Although you may not have been physically present at this call, it was our fire service that forever changed the lives of those children. It was our fire service that created the opportunities for those children to become the young ladies they are now. It is our fire service that, through extension of those remarkable young ladies, is and will be helping other burned children for years to come. Much like Jill, it is difficult for us to reflect on how many lives we have changed for the better or how much of an impact we have had on an individual. It is even harder to determine how the impact on that individual will affect those that they will help in years to come. But it is happening, every day, in jurisdictions across the country and every one of us is a part of it.
I beg you to take a minute after reading this and reflect on your time in the fire service. You may not know the outcome of every call you have experienced, but I assure you, our fire service is making an impact and changing lives forever. Be proud to be a part of that.
Thank you, Jill, for the incredible work you have done over the last couple of decades. You are an incredible leader, an inspiration to all of us in public service, and have made a tremendous impact on the lives of so many children. Best wishes in your retirement.
Be safe and do good.