Vail Daily column: Behind the badge
Ryan Summerlin September 22, 2013
This is not the article you expected out of a fire chief. I won’t be admonishing you about changing batteries in your smoke detectors, or the need for residential fire sprinklers, or the dangers of candles in your home, or keeping your Christmas tree watered … albeit important stuff, that’s not what this is about.
Throughout my 34 years in the fire service, having been on thousands of incidents, there is always a behind-the-scenes story to be told. The stuff firefighters, paramedics and cops do, see or experience; the incredible, sometimes incredulous, occasionally hilarious, often miraculous stuff that happens on a daily basis. For those of you that may be thinking, “Oh great, an editorial version of the next reality show,” nope, it’s just human interest, perspective-changing stuff.
What’s the point? Well, simply stated, through my years in this profession and various personal tragedies, I have been come to realize how the events in our lives shape our perspective, our character and our attitude and how we relate to others. Too often, we fail to take the time to look introspectively at the value of the events in our daily lives. Kind of like taking your health and life for granted until a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Then, your perspective changes, priorities seem clearer and immediately you understand the gut-wrenching fragility of life. Perhaps some of you, the readers, the people we serve, will relate; perhaps some won’t. I guess it’s all about your perspective.
There was a knock on the door of my parent’s home. It was midnight on a chilly November night. My parents bolted out of bed, bewildered. Did someone run out of gas? Do they need to use the phone? Is it a neighbor in trouble? Or did something terrible happen? As my mom opened the door, she saw a uniformed Colorado State Patrol officer darkening the doorway.
“Mrs. Miller, do you have a son by the name of Richard”?
“Yes, is everything all right?”
“I’m afraid not Mrs. Miller. Your son was in a car accident this evening. He is in critical condition, on life support, and at Denver General Hospital — airlifted there a couple hours ago. You best get there right away.”
My perspective changed that night — my older brother died in that tragic accident. It changed again when my wife of 13 years was diagnosed with cancer, and died at the age of 39, leaving our two kids, 10 and 13. Once again, it changed 12 years ago when my dad died as a result of a severe fall, and again when I experienced what every fire chief dreads — the death of a fire captain I worked with as a result of a line of duty incident. It all still hurts. I’m sure many of you can relate — life happens and it changes our perspective, attitude, values and relationships.
Honestly, my perspective changes daily as I see what happens around me. I have empathy and compassion that I was not able to comprehend previously. Frankly, each time we respond on a car crash, building full of smoke, cardiac arrest, cut finger or drunk passed out in the street, I get perspective. Sometimes it’s just a momentary reminder that life can be messy. As this newspaper allows, I hope to share some of the behind the scenes stuff we come across. My only goal is that it you see it for what it is — real, both heart wrenching and heartwarming, perspective changing. It’s not about me, it’s not about Vail fire; it’s simply about people, life and what matters … stay tuned.
Mark Miller is Vail’s fire chief.