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Susan Tamme, 55, fire chief in Tampa, Fla.:

I’m a firefighter and I’ve been one for 23 years for the city of Tampa. Tonight I’d like to ask you to put on my boots and take a journey with me on a call. It was my first day on the job and I had prepared myself for years before I became a firefighter. I knew how to start IVs. I knew the sequence of making sure people’s lives are taken care of… head to toe, checking the airway, taking the blood pressure. I knew how to pull the hose, how to run into the building making sure my gear was okay. …. I was ready to go.

I was assigned to Station 11. … the House of Pain. They had the most calls in the city and a lot of calls in the city that were traumatic and serious. It was 11 O’clock at night and the tones go off. … Motor vehicle collision, possible ejection at corner of Waters and Nebraska. I put my jacket on, I step into my boots and I am ready to go. My heart is racing. I am ready to go, I have been through this and I am working with the team. Rush to the scene …. There’s a body on the ground. There’s a 50-something man on the ground, John Doe. We get to work.

We get down, we are cutting clothes off and you can smell. You can smell the gasoline and dried blood. It’s in his hair and there’s broken glass, his arm is bent to left, his legs are cocked to the right, his face is swollen. And we are just working. We are machines, we are click click click click. We’re starting IVs, getting blood pressures and now pick up the backboard, load him into the rescue car and wave goodbye.

I am walking back getting my gear and stuff together. I look at the ground and there’s something down there. I pick it up and I open it – it’s a wallet. And I open it … it’s a picture of man. He’s a family man. He’s got a wife. There’s two kids in the picture. And I was just frozen. Because that isn’t what I just saw and what I just worked on. I was mechanical. Now, holding a wallet, staring at that man, you know, it meant something to me.

I want you to know I’ve done that hundreds of times in the last 23 years of my career as have many of my fellow firefighters.

And the story I want you all to know is that we are servants to the community and every person that we’ve taken care of and everybody that we’ve served is stuck in our memories and we put them in our pockets and we move on to the next one. And the difference isn’t the skills and the stuff we do. The difference we make is the lives we’ve touched and the memories that we are carrying of the people in the community.

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