Michael Marks


The old man smiled and nodded as I walked along the street,
and I could not help but notice that his task appeared complete.
The fire engine sparkled, every inch of metal gleamed;
A picture of perfection, or at least that’s how it seemed.

But still he fussed about a speck too small for me to see,
a tiny smudge upon the golden number ‘33’
emblazoned on the engine’s side in iridescent hue
and so I ambled closer just to get a better view.

“It must be great,” I mused aloud, “to have a job like this
Away from all the stress of corporate life, it must be bliss.
Some days when I go home from work I just can’t clear my mind
It’s tough to leave important stress of work too far behind.”

“But this, now here’s a job that I could really get to love,
To be outside and far away from all that push and shove.
I’d love a chance to drive around in such a fancy truck,
And douse a fire now and then… some guys have all the luck.”

The old man turned and gave a stare that made my knees go weak;
I tried to mumble something but I found I couldn’t speak.
Like quiet thunder from afar his voice did reach my ear,
and in his words I felt an icy touch that gave me fear.

“You want to have a memory of standing on the line?”
He took my hand and with a squeeze said “here, try some of mine”
And in a blur of sight and sound, a storm of smoke and soot,
I walked into his memory and stepped into his boots.

I felt the fire-weakened floor that groaned beneath my feet,
and saw my helmet blister from the fire’s searing heat.
I couldn’t see the walls for all the clouds of blinding smoke,
and even with my breathing gear I thought I’d surely choke.

Then suddenly the world was naught but crashing brick and stone,
The sound of snapping timbers or the sound of breaking bones.
And like the Gates of Hell itself had burst and opened wide,
A firestorm exploded then, and that’s when people died.

I saw a firefighter who was scarcely past his teens
storm through a wall of fire in response to distant screams.
But on his heels I saw the Beast contort and swell and burn,
And in its fury there I knew he never would return.

Once more the world became a blur and then I was outside,
Just cradling a baby girl who in my arms had died.
With sooty hands I brushed a tiny curl from off her face
and wondered was there any way I could have won the race.

I clutched her tiny body as the sobs tore through my chest.
And fell upon my knees to ask the Lord to give me rest.
I prayed to God that I could wake from such a frightful dream
While somewhere in the distance I could hear her mother scream.

The blur again and I was home with tears upon my cheek,
The old man’s voice admonishing “Be careful what you seek”
And with a graven tone he put the question out to me,
“Still feel like telling me about how tough your job can be?”

And in a flash I realized the wrong that was in me,
In choosing to ignore the things I didn’t want to see.
For while I turned away from all the horror and the pain,
There were a few who had the guts to face it time again.

He gazed at me and softly said, “Don’t think that I regret
a moment of my life or that I’d ever once forget;
For every battle that was lost a hundred more were won,
And every scar I carry represents the job I’ve done.”

“I’ve carried kids and moms and cats to safety from the smoke,
I’ve felt a heart return to life and saved a man who choked.
I’ve seen a daughter’s tears when told her daddy will survive,
and watched the gleam of hope that comes the moment we arrive.”

“I count myself a lucky man to stand with those who care
enough to bear the memories and those of us who dare
to look the fire in the eye and fight it tooth and nail,
and know our life is on the line the moment that we fail.”

And in his words I found a truth that I had never known,
I thanked him for the chance to see the things that I’d been shown;
the chance to know how much I owe before my moment dire,
to understand their sacrifice before I faced the fire.

It was an honor then I knew to shake the old man’s hand,
And men and women like him standing watch across the land.
I knew that I would not forget the things he let me see,
The images will long remain… burned in my memory.

Author’s Note: While much attention is rightly given to those who serve in the Armed Forces, we cannot overlook the heroic men and women of the fire and emergency response services who every day rush into our worst disasters to save lives and prevent suffering. It is my hope that these few words serve to remind everyone of the great costs, not only physical but emotional as well, paid by these dedicated souls. Day in and day out they face scenes that would leave most people sick in order to save the lives of our moms and dads, our sons and daughters. Take a moment and think about how you can show your support to the heroes at your local fire/EMS service. From a word of thanks or a tin of cookies to support of donation drives, we should all find a way to give something back to those who so dearly deserve it.

Webmaster’s Note: The IWVPA website is to display and share writings about war and the consequences of war; writings by and about war veterans and all those caught up in the tragedy of war, including their friends, relatives and family who are affected by the tragedy of war and its consequences.

The decision to include this poem on the IWVPA Archives is to be taken as an exception rather than precedence. It is not a poem about war in the sense meant by the above statement, but instead honours a group of people who selfless and heroic deeds are often overlooked in mundane and expected day-to-day events; whose accomplishments are lost in the shadows cast by the lights of the passion and glory that glow brightly, and rightly, upon the heroes of more sensational but equally dangerous callings.

I join with Michael Marks in his salute to the heroes who live and work and, all too often, die that we have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of Freedom that our warriors have so selflessly won for each of us.

Anthony W. Pahl OAM
IWVPA Webmaster
August 6, 2004