"Dude, we got CRA-ZEE flash flooding all over. Can you check out a water rescue up your way?"
It was more marching orders than a request, so I didn't bother answering. Instead I repeated the address in question and folded my cell phone. Thirty seconds later I wondered where my hat was as I steered Unit Four through what felt like the Red Sea. It wasn't, but with seven inches of rain falling over my homeland over the course of a few hours, the biblical references come fast and furious. Which is precisely why I kept an eye out for animals traveling by pair as the GPS screen led me deep into Northeast Guilford County. When the voice on my dashboard told me I'd reached my destination, I didn't really believe her, but then I saw red and yellow orbs dancing in the distance.
Closer inspection revealed men beneath that light show, so I found a soggy patch of shoulder to park on and inhaled my last few seconds of comfort for the evening. KA-WOOM! The rain came down with such force, I wondered if I owed it money. But before I could figure out who to curse for my soggy boxers, I felt the eyes of a dozen souls upon me. Firefighters, deputies, rescue swimmers - all staring at me as if I'd mailed invitations to this glistening spot in the road. But I didn't take it personal, for I know what's up when first responders idle...
I stood there for more than an hour, the rain invading my every pour as I competed with the rescue crews for who could look the most bored. None of us were bored, mind you, but it's just something grown men do when there's no one left to rescue, nothing yet to report. Later, I would find out a woman driving a moped had ignored police warning to stay off that road and she paid for it with her life. I was there when they pulled her out, but far enough away to escape the brunt of it. Folks sometimes grow angry with my ilk; they figure we're unfeeling leaches who live for the next body-bag shot. They're wrong - but I can no more change their minds than I can stop the rain. Truth is, I no longer really care. This job CAN be done with dignity, respect, feeling. Those who say it can't have never stood in my soggy shoes, have never averted their lens when the gurney rolls past, have never pretended the water rolling down their face is nothing more than rain.
Here's hoping they never have to.