Stories From the Road: First Responder Stories

Stories From the Road: First Responder Stories

Camaraderie. Courage. Commitment. Join host and former firefighter/paramedic Phil Klein as he delves into the heroic and heartbreaking stories told directly by the men and women who work the front lines every day. Whether you’re a first responder or simply interested in the lives of first responders, Stories From the Road presents a captivating, weekly perspective into the unique world of public service as only those who have experienced it can share.


March 28, 2023 39 min

“This is all right at the beginning of fire season, and my symptoms really escalated from that point on. I started being paranoid, a startle response, it was crazy.  I thought I was going crazy.”  - Chief Linda

The mid-September Saturday in 2015 seemed harmless enough. It was forecasted to be cloudy with low winds and high humidity – a reprieve from a hectic, relentless fire season. Linda had been the duty chief for most o...

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“Seconds later, a male subject partially came out at the top of the stairwell. He was sweating profusely; his eyes were wide open with this glazed look literally staring straight through us.  And at this point we’re yelling, ‘Show us your hands! Show us your hands!’ and he had no visible reaction. I mean no facial expressions, I don’t remember his eyes blinking, no body movement.  I mean, literally, just staring straight through us...

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“For a while there, that was my crutch. I just, I kept going back to the bar and I was reliving that call — at night, during the day – just trying to figure out what happened. What could I have done? What should we have done? Could we have done anything better for the people that were there when we were triaging them? When we were treating them? If other units had gotten there quicker? If we had gotten there quicker?" – Parame...

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“While I’m sitting in this Dodge Caravan, a four-seven precinct van drives by and they give me – we call it the hairy eyebrow – like they give you a dirty look and I’m like %@#*!  If they run the plate on this car and it comes back stolen, they’re going to circle around. I’m not gonna be able to open the door cause there’s no panels. I’m not gonna be able to identify myself. It’s pitch black in here.  They’re going to pull me out o...

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“I look at the EMT, and I’m trying to stay as calm as possible, because panic is probably the most contagious thing out there – I will argue that panic is the most contagious thing out there [...]. And I just look at him and say, ‘Hey, as soon as my partner walks over here, don’t jump out, don’t do anything, just open the door […] – he’ll see what’s going on.’  And he did, and I said, ‘Well Bill, this is where we are now.’” - Fligh...

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February 21, 2023 27 min

“I remember shutting my locker door and then my intuition, my gut instinct, was that was the last time I was going to shut my locker, and I had this like really uneasy feeling of, ‘Ooh, that was really weird. Why did I think that?’ Because that’s not normally a thought that would come to my mind.” – Paramedic Nick

You signed up for this. It’s a phrase that seems to be pervasive among fire departments and police stations across the c...

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February 14, 2023 19 min

We meet so many people in a single shift and, after a while, it does accumulate, but we may be the only first responders someone sees, let alone the last person they see or the last voice they hear on this earth.” - Paramedic Alexis

Flower petals and stems lay strewn about the seats of the car Alexis was photographing – along with brain matter and blood. Her eyes scanned the car’s mangled interior, and she wondered how t...

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It was a really unique situation because this girl was actually carrying – as a surrogate – the baby for her sister who couldn’t have children, so this was like a super important pregnancy. It had to succeed.” - Chief Scott

Twenty-five years. Fifty deliveries. Three weeks. Three new babies.

Many first responders find that obstetric emergencies are more often studied in the classroom than experienced on the job and, when th...

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November 29, 2022 33 min

“You’re supposed to be the person that shows up and makes things better, and it’s pretty hard to make things better if you’re struggling yourself.” – Chief David

First responders’ coping mechanisms are often instituted over years of service, with each call serving as another brick in the wall they build to divide the life-changing trauma they’ve witnessed from their ability to work their next shift and operate in the normalcy of lif...

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November 22, 2022 28 min

“It was a couple years at this point, where it’s really affecting me. I was in denial about PTSD, and I was like oh well, I was a marine, I was in combat in Afghanistan. Alright, this is basically, you know, combat in New Jersey.” 
– Officer Jay

Officer Jay had been on countless 911 calls, but something about this one felt different. Perhaps it was the lack of information available from dispatch or the call’s nondescript brandin...

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November 15, 2022 22 min

We had to climb over – there was all kinds of debris – we had to climb over what I thought was a desk, and then we came across that, it may have been a pallet full of building materials somewhere along the lines, and when a Coke machine went floating by, I knew it was kind of getting pretty serious.” – Firefighter Paul

There are numerous places a firefighter might expect to use water rescue training but, for Paul, the basement of a...

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November 8, 2022 27 min

And it feels good because when I left the job, I really kinda lost my identity for a while, and I felt like I wasn’t able to help people.  And lately, especially, I’ve sort of gotten some of that back, where I’m giving back to the community I love so much.  I know these men and women who, you know, selflessly go out every day and sacrifice so much.” – Ret. Firefighter/EMT Keith

First responders often excel at compartment...

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November 1, 2022 28 min

“I told her it wasn’t me, you know, it was me with a team, and that’s what always happens. And I think people need to realize that it’s not always about the guy or the girl [...] who may be at the head performing the intubation, or giving the medication, or the first person who shocked him. It’s the whole chain of what goes on from stem to stern, and when that all falls into place, man, you can do some great work.” 
– Chief Sco...

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October 25, 2022 38 min

The most rewarding thing I found was, basically, it was always — it was just the little jobs.  It was the little old lady who was broken down in a car who was absolutely terrified.” - Sgt. Harry

While policies, organizational structures, and acronyms may differ from country to country, first responders around the world share many similarities, often united by their desire to help others, serve their community, cope with the untold ...

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October 18, 2022 38 min

“So, we’re doing this debrief, and they’re like, ‘You know, no one wants to talk. Everyone either wants to go catch the bastard, or they’re still in shock.’  So, like alright, if no one wants to talk, you guys can go 10-8. I have no reason to keep you here.” – Officer Charles

It’s stressful to contend with the public’s emergencies day in and day out, especially in a culture that can be less than supportive of first responders’ work....

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October 11, 2022 31 min

“One of the things I’ve learned about PTSD, frankly I was angry at myself that I didn’t – that I didn’t recognize signs earlier.  But the only thing I knew about PTSD is that the military, first responders had it and I didn’t know what it looked like. ” – Kayla

It’s one of the first things those who were in New York City always seem to remember about the morning of September 11, 2001: its magnificent, crystal blue sky. Perhaps becau...

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October 4, 2022 28 min

“What is it that makes a warrior a warrior? […] The warriors were different, and you don’t have to be a marine or a firefighter to be a warrior. You can be a single mom working two jobs just to help your kids. But it’s this concept of ‘adversity helps you grow.’ Iron sharpens iron.” – Lieutenant Zachary

First responders are inherent problem solvers, and it’s a skill Zachary has implemented in every facet of his life as a former mari...

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September 27, 2022 31 min

“It draws you in. There’s no other way to explain it – if you’re not an EMS or a first responder, fire, police whatever – it all just draws you in.” – Paramedic Alexis 

What if you didn’t choose your job? What if it chose you? Alexis wasn’t privy to a lot about what her father dealt with during his 26-year career as a police officer, and what she did know only solidified her belief: she did not want to be a first responder. She was ...

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September 20, 2022 37 min

“I can remember when he said, ‘Turn the machine off,’ things got really bad for me about that time, because I’ve always had a fantastic relationship with our fire department. In fact, I would say they’re the best in the nation. I wouldn’t want anybody else touching me except for them. But when that decision was made, I was not good with that decision.  I said, ‘You’re not turning it off, you’re gonna leave it on until we can g...

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September 13, 2022 23 min

“That’s kind of a surreal thing to go through this huge, traumatic event, and then you have to go back to work and write stop sign tickets or something.” – Officer Nate

As a newer police officer working day shift in an understaffed Northern Virginia department, Nate quickly became accustomed to the countless routine calls involving car break-ins, thefts, and welfare checks. That changed suddenly one January day, when he was called t...

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