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  • Writer's pictureruthannelphillips

The magic of the engine

The call came in for a child with a broken arm.

When we arrived at the park in the ambulance it was dark and his small figure lay crumpled on the grass. He was surrounded by friends and family trying to comfort him; a mish mash of make shift lighting dotted his body and the surrounding area.

He was about seven years old and his right arm was obviously broken. The bone unnaturally jutting from right below his shoulder. It threatened to burst through his stretched and tightening skin. The boy whimpered with every movement and threatened movement, "please don't touch it, just please," he implored, his voice and eyes begging for help, but begging to be left alone at the same time, not wanting to incur any more pain, but knowing that it was inevitable.

The severity of the break combined with the location of the fall made it difficult to move his battered body. He had been playing football at the park when he was tackled by his bigger cousin. The cousin hung back away from the crowd, his head hung low in quiet despair, apologies mumbled intermittently with each moan that came from the young boy on the ground.

To bring a stretcher up the staircase was possible, but the resulting jolting and jarring would have been excruciating with only two people, so our paramedic decided to call for an engine in the hope that more hands could gently carry our precious cargo to the ambulance with the least amount of additional stress and trauma.

After cradling and securing the arm in a pillow splint, the engine arrived with lights and sirens, and that is when the most amazing thing happened. Where before there were whimpers and tears and pain, those sirens brought a change to the boy. "What's that?" He whispered.

His father said, "It's a fire engine."

And the boy said, "Why is it here?"

"It's here for you."

"For me? Do I get to ride in it?" The boy asked through his tears and clenched teeth, yet his eyes had brightened.

The crew approached the boy in their turn-out pants, boots and suspenders. His eyes grew large with awe and amazement. These were his heroes. They surrounded him with their gentle strength and complimented him on his bravery. With their words and encouragement, they gained his trust. As a team, we lifted him as the precious, precious cargo he was. Like gentle, waltzing bears we moved in tandem to avoid each bump and jerk and hazard. Holding our breath, we hoped with all our might, and with our best efforts we willed, "He will be safe!"

At the hospital the boy was taken in for surgery and a brand new cast. When people ask him what happened he tells them of the football tackle that went awry. And in the years to follow, at each family gathering, the story will get embellished and the day remembered between cousins as the day you/I broke my/your arm, and with relief the parents will sigh and hope that is the worst thing that ever happens.

But in each telling and re-telling, the boy will remember that night for another reason completely. In time, the memories of the fear and pain will fade, but every time he hears the sound of the siren or sees the red of the engine, those will be the days he remembers he wanted to be a firefighter; the day of magic, and heroes and lumbering, dancing bears.

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