The bad anniversary that is dogging my thoughts at this moment is August 22, 2001. The day before I was exposed to toxic chemicals and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide while at a construction meeting at work. On the morning of the 22nd, I went to the office feeling ill but determined to work through it. There was a lot going on with renovation of the Board of Ed offices, and it needed my attention. Around ten I pelted up four flights of stairs to get some backup tapes from webwyrm. I never made it back to my office.
The exertion must have combined with toxins still in my body (one of which, we learned, decays into more carbon monoxide in your blood) to leave me starved for oxygen. I collapsed on her office floor. I saw stars, and I was in a cold profuse sweat. It will take a long time for me to forget the vice-like crushing pain I felt in my heart. Minutes later I was staring up at the men from the Hartford Fire Department's Engine Company 2. They took care of me until the ambulance arrived. I was taken to Hartford Hospital where I was "treated and released."
The treatment consisted of pumping me full of oxygen, watching me for a few hours, and sending me home to rest for the remainder of the day. The next day I was back at work, collecting stares and gasps from people who had heard a wild rumor that I had died. (How they got that I'll never know, I was wheeled out on a gurney propped up, conscious and talking.) Within the week coworkers had convinced me to move my office out of the Board of Ed building and into the basement space in Barnard Brown school we soon affectionately called "the bunker". It didn't take much convincing.
In the days, weeks, and months after, many things happened. There was an OSHA investigation. The contractor responsible for the chemical exposure was fined several thousand dollars. Construction trucks were banned from idling on the side street next to the building's air intakes. I got myself to the doctor and was diagnosed with asthma and got on meds that keep it under control. The outcomes have been pretty good. But the incident itself still haunts me this time of year.
I thought about it a little today while I was walking two school construction sites with one of my guys. I had pretty much put it aside until dinner. Sitting at the table we heard first a police car come screaming by, then an ambulance, and another cop. I twigged to the fact that their sirens stopped just past our house. I went upstairs to have a look and saw that they had stopped at the house of an elderly couple we know just up the road. We went outside to see what we could see. Asha weeded the garden while I watched motorists try to cause accidents getting around the police cars and the ambulance.
Eventually the EMTs wheeled someone out on a gurney. From the distance I couldn't tell whether it was Laura or John. He or she was propped up, and looked conscious. I felt a level of relief when the ambulance turned around in the Cotton Hollow parking lot, doused its lights and motored sedately toward Main Street. I was thinking "hopefully someone just had a scare, and the EMTs are taking them in to get checked over a precaution." I was damn near close to tears. The tears come from the resonance.
Back in the winter of '99 there was a fire in Worcester Massachusetts in an abandoned warehouse. Six firemen got trapped (the first searching for homeless people who may have been inside, the others trying to rescue their comrades), and all six perished. It may not have made the national news, but it was a big story here. Firemen from all over New England including Glastonbury and Hartford went to the funerals.
That was very much on my mind in the early summer of '01 when the Glastonbury volunteers from Co. 2 came tearing past our house headed up the hill. Normally they go out for car wrecks on route 2, or little things. Major events are very rare. I realized that something big was up when the trucks started making shuttle runs down the hill to tank at the fire house, and back up to fight the fire at the Andrulots'. The house was badly damaged, but no one was seriously hurt. I recall praying each time a truck went by, because I knew that somewhere up the hill, people were doing something dangerous in order to save a life or save a home.
Then there was August 22nd. Then it was my hour of need, and in that moment they came for me. Engine Company 2's house is barely a mile from the Board of Ed office, so they got the call. I heard them on the street two or three minutes after webwyrm called 911. It took them longer to find me in the confusion of temporary offices than it did for them to get to the building. But, there they were, with big EMT bags, blue gloves, pen flashlights, questions "what's your name?" "can you tell me what happened?", and oxygen. They came, and I stopped being afraid that I was going to die.
Twenty days later was 9/11. Over three thousand dead. Three hundred plus were FDNY. And senselessly too. Because the NYPD and FDNY radio systems didn't interoperate, the Police commanders couldn't tell the Fire commanders that their helicopter observers had warned them that the structures were buckling. When NYPD called their officers out, FDNY was still pouring in, unawares. In the months following 9/11 we did a lot of work networking the Hartford fire houses. I got to know a number of HFD officers and men. I even met the crew from Engine Co. 2 that got the call for me. They seemed happy to know that things had come out alright for me.
That resonance is strong. Any time I see fire or EMS going out on a call I cannot help but whisper a prayer. Tonight has brought all of this back to me, as fresh as if it was yesterday. Time will dull this. Enough anniversaries and some year I'll look up on my birthday (the 29th) and realize that I hadn't even thought about the 22nd. But for now, it is still ringing in my heart and in my mind.