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The care of Senior Members

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August 01, 2021 | NATIONAL Didymus McHugh, Correspondent

I remember years ago, one fire department carried on its rolls people who were senior members. These were men who have served many years. They may not have participated much on the regular runs, but they might have come out for major fires to support the younger crews. They may have brought food or coffee, or they may have watched the pump or help pick up after the fire.

The important thing was that these people were still useful and treated with respect. The way that fires were fought may have changed, since they stretched their lines, but listen to the principals. You may find something that has been forgotten that is still very useful.

Many times, people are discarded because of their age or physical limitations. I think of fire companies or departments, who may work with a person of special needs. The person may only be able to wash a fire apparatus or perform some task that we may consider menial, but for them, it gives them dignity.

I have seen members retire and then lose their identity because they always went to the fire station or knew where the action was, because they were in the middle of it. They may be in their home or in a nursing home but their mind may rekindle the fire from years ago and they get to fight the fire in their memories.

Wait a second, if the old firefighters, the firemen, want to tell their stories, why not write them down. Each town or city has its own history. We can record the firemen telling us the story of the fires and put that on a website as part of the department’s history. We can keep a record of the tools and techniques that were used. We can learn extrication techniques without having to use hydraulic tools of today or how to vent a roof without using a saw. I have never known an axe that would fail to start.

I think of people that I know through some of the fire organizations and I am honored to be working with men who are 95-years-old. The older members come up with ideas that the younger people may forget about, the essentials, the fundamentals.

A while ago, some young firefighters were so sold on technology. They were being taught about how to call a “mayday”, using their radios. Someone asked a question that most people did not think about: “how do I call a 'mayday' if you lose your portable radio or if it gets damaged”?. One of the senior members recounted that they would look out the window and see if they could find a fire chief or officer. If they could, they would take off their helmet and throw it at the chief or officer and see if they could hit them with the helmet. They said it was a sure way to get their attention.

Each one of us has value at all times. Let us continue to stay in touch with the people who should have our respect. These people are the reason why so many people wanted to be a firefighter or work in public safety and serve our fellow man.

Right now, we have many senior members who may not be able to leave their homes, or are in nursing homes or have other challenges. Are these people now forgotten? How about doing a rotation on visiting them? Take your company or department roster, have people sign up so that the member has a visitor at least every weekend. Check to verify that your chaplain is making their rounds to visit and stay in touch with the senior members.

By visiting, you may be able to help the senior member continue to get benefits that they have earned for their service. You may really bring a smile to them and stay such a meaningful part of the family’s life.

I know plenty of senior members who may know or have known almost everyone in town, but today they may not be able to get out. They may be restricted as to where they may go. They may be restricted to a bed, a room or a facility. Please put yourself in their place. How would you feel? Bored, lonely, forgotten? I know that you may have other people who may want to join in a conversation, if in a nursing home, so allow for that in your time visiting. Your visit brings smiles to people’s faces and you brighten their days.

To my senior members, I say thank you. To Uncle Emil, Walt, Chubby, Senior, CC, Big Ed, Dad, thank you for raising me and teaching me. May I always find a way to honor you.

Please continue to take care of the senior members. They have put their lives on the line. They may have taught you. They deserve our continued respect and compassion.

Stay safe,

Didymus McHugh

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Didymus McHughCorrespondent

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