I’ll bet you thought this was going to be something violent, sexual, obscene, and so on… right? Not even close.

A few weeks back, Marianne and I were sitting in the living room, as an episode of “COPS” came on the TV. The show started the way it always does, with the announcer reading the graphic content disclaimer, so as to warn parents and unsuspecting viewers that the show might be “too much” for some to handle. “Due to the graphic nature of this program, viewer discretion is advised.”

As I read along on the screen, something occurred to me… Having spent seven years in EMS (Toledo, Ohio), and now almost 10 months with the Conover Fire and Rescue Department, we (Firefighters, EMTs, Paramedics, and Cops) don’t get the luxury of being forewarned by a disclaimer. Only the information fed to us at the time of the call – and subsequent updates while we’re en route – is our only warning that what we’re about to encounter can be overly graphic and utterly disturbing.

Over the years, I’ve seen more than my fair share, but you either learn to cope, or you carry the deep, mental scars forever. Vehicle accidents, structure fires, domestic violence, elderly abuse, child abuse, this person isn’t breathing, and that child has no pulse. Maybe you’re wondering why we subject ourselves to this over and over and over. I suppose that requires a two-part answer. First, as the disclaimer warns, not everyone can handle seeing these things, so those of us who can do the job, do it. Secondly, for each and every one of the (literally) thousands of calls that I’ve responded to over the years, there’s always the hope that somehow we’ll make a difference.

My son recently told me that he “freaks out” when he sees someone hurt or unconscious. I explained to him that his reaction is “normal” for most people who don’t live in the world of first responders. I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times that I’ve responded to bad accidents, traumas, or medical emergencies and found the witnesses, family members, and onlookers not only horrified but frenzied, as they just don’t understand what they’re seeing. Plain and simple: they’re terrified and they want somebody… anybody… to take charge and make things better. There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re human and they’re seeing something that they’ve never seen before while praying to God that they never see it again. Meanwhile, we suppress our own emotions so that we can do what needs to be done.

When you see us racing for the station, or responding once we’re in the Department’s equipment, please move over and let us by. People are curious by nature, but before you follow that engine or ambulance to see what’s going on, just remember: “Due to the graphic nature of this program, viewer discretion is advised.”