Flaming Campers & Salamanders

During my senior year of high school I joined the local volunteer fire department. Two of my friends had already joined and it sounded like a fun and exciting way to help out my community.

One of the most memorable fire calls I was on was a structural fire that occurred late at night. When I reached the fire station (fire barn), I was happy to be greeted by Rick Steckel. We quickly put on our bunker gear and loaded up in one of the pump trucks and sped off down the road.

If you have never met Rick, you are missing out. He’s a witty and funny guy that loves to act. In fact, Rick performs in a wild west shootout each year during the town’s annual event, Pioneer Days. I was excited and eager to help and the fact that Rick was with me made the call even better.

I remember seeing the glow of the flames as it lit up part of the area that would have otherwise been covered with darkness. We were the second truck at the scene, but what we saw next made us panic a little bit. We witnessed an entire barn engulfed in flames and next to it was a cabover camper with flames kissing its two attached propane tanks.

With quick thinking, Rick instructed me to prepare the truck to “foam” the tanks to prevent the fire from touching them. We eventually got the camper out and soon had to refill the truck with water at the nearest hydrant a mile away. Eventually, the fire crew extinguished all of the fire, but the devastation was incredible. Many of the animals, mainly goats, were killed or had to be euthanized.

For me as an 18 year old kid, I couldn’t empathize what the farmer was going through. I was still young and couldn’t comprehend loss. Growing up on a cattle ranch, I would see animals die often — sometimes with no rhyme or reason.

I decided to drive by the old fire barn and found this truck outside.

“I Like Salamanders”

I had salamanders as a kid — I loved my salamanders. Although in hindsight, naming them Batman and Robin was not that creative. One summer, my family had planned a vacation in Arizona to visit my “snowbird” grandparents and some of my parent’s friends. My other grandmother was in charge of making sure the cats and the fish were fed.

After spending a week away, we finally returned home. I remember being eager to see my salamanders. But instead, I looked down upon their dry tank and saw their shriveled up remains.

I had thought, if I only took them with me this would have never happened. I had blamed my grandmother too. How could she? My poor grandmother didn’t even know at the time that I had the salamanders. I was hurt and angry — looking for a reason, blaming myself, and blaming others.

The truth was that sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. Sometimes, there’s no reason for the hurt or heartbreak. Sometimes, the world is just not fair.

Why Did This Happen?

Do we believe that God has a reason for all the bad things we encounter? No one really knows. But I would say having true faith is understanding that you are a loved and unique creation — while also realizing that trials and tribulations are a part of what we have to live with. We have to be thankful for the good times, but more importantly, we need to keep strong during the bad.

I have a good friend grieving over the loss of someone close to him in a freak accident. He had witnessed it and could do nothing about it. I hurt for him — I can’t tell him that tomorrow will be a better day. I can’t say that there was a reason for what had happened. All I can do now is to let him know that I am there if he needs me. I’m there to remind him that sometimes life really sucks and that is out of our control.

While we (mostly) have control over our own lives, things happen that are beyond it. How we react to these uncontrollable moments is one of the biggest challenges we must face. We can’t blame ourselves or ask the “what if’s”. We have to accept that things happen and we can’t change the outcome.

Sometimes, shit happens. How we deal with it is what molds us as people.

I’m still working on accepting that not every day will be full of laughing, joy, sunshine, and rainbows. Sometimes, shit happens. How we deal with it is what molds us as people. If you can, talk to someone — a friend or a counsellor. Write down how you feel because sometimes seeing it on paper or on a screen allows you to take a step back and reflect. You might even see your life differently because of it.

Even today, I struggle with realizing that bad things still happen. I have to stop myself from finding the cause of certain events and casting blame on myself or others.

Sorry Grandma Wanda, I’m sure you understand and forgive me.

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