1. Breivogel, Robert J.

Article Content

I've been a New York City firefighter for the past 12 years, but two years ago, looking for a way to regain focus after September 11, 2001, I made a decision to enroll in nursing school. Around my firehouse, I'm now known as "Bobby Bed Pans."


When school began I was engulfed in a whirlwind of nursing care plans, lab reports, and textbooks. Still working nights and weekends at the firehouse, I used every spare moment for my studies-my 30-lb. backpack went everywhere with me. I began to appreciate how a woman must feel during her last few weeks of pregnancy.

FIGURE. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. No caption available.

Then one beautiful fall evening I arrived at work for my 6 pm shift. The garage door to the firehouse was open, inviting in the cool twilight air. As I placed my backpack on the front bumper of the fire engine, Paul, Jimmy, and Tom began filling me in about the events of the previous shift.


The fire alarm sounded.


As the computer printed out the details of the alarm, the firehouse came to life, as all the men began putting on their "turnout gear"-fire-resistant coats, "bunker" pants, leather knee high boots, gloves, fire-resistant hoods, helmets, air tanks with respirators and face pieces, and radios. We were being dispatched to a structural fire on Coney Island Avenue in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Within minutes, the men jumped onto the back of the rig, and the officer in charge and I climbed into the cab of the fire engine. I'm the "engine chauffeur," responsible for getting the firefighters safely to the scene and supplying water. I started the engine, turned on the lights and sirens, and proceeded out the door.


The street was full of people enjoying the last taste of outdoor life before winter descended. As we approached the fire, we could see the smoke billowing out the second-floor windows of the apartment building and the people exiting quickly. I searched for the nearest fire hydrant. Of course, driving in New York traffic makes this an even greater challenge. I spotted a hydrant directly across the street.


What I didn't realize is that I had forgotten to take my backpack off the front bumper. I had been cruising down Coney Island Avenue to a fire with Brunner and Suddarth and Carpenito hanging onto the front bumper for dear life.


Adrenaline rushing, I hit the brakes on this 25,000-lb. monster, and suddenly my backpack and all its contents were launched off the front bumper, flying 20 feet into the sky in front of me. My care plans floated like confetti in a ticker-tape parade. My backpack hit the ground and began tumbling down Coney Island Avenue like a bowling ball heading for a single pin. Brunner and Suddarth and Carpenito spilled out and slid along the avenue. Highlighting pens bounced in all directions. I watched my notebook skip down the road like a tumbleweed.


I couldn't quite comprehend it at first. I jumped out of the rig but froze, faced suddenly with the question, "Books or fire?" "Books or fire?" In front of me weeks of work were strewn about the street-nursing school roadkill.


My dilemma was short lived. I needed to get water on the fire. I went to work supplying water and helping to extinguish the blaze. The fire was a small stove fire and no one was injured. My backpack was another story.


When the fire was out, I walked down Coney Island Avenue to recover the remains of my academic labor. The gross disfigurement of my belongings made this a gruesome task, but I was New York's Bravest. My backpack had suffered a mortal blow. The straps had torn clear apart and the zipper had dehisced. Brunner had a severe case of road rash. Carpenito had a broken spine and multiple superficially torn pages. My care plans were scored with tire tracks and my notebook was a tattered mess. Carefully, I carried the load back to the engine, rescuing the wounded from battle.


Six months from now, I'll graduate from nursing school. In a way, I'm again faced with the question, "Books or fire?" But I'm not ready to leave my engine company; like nursing, firefighting is a calling, a way of life. I'm planning to work part time as a nurse until I retire from the department in 2012. So let my friends call me Bobby Bed Pans. I'm excited about my new career.