This article was written by Frumentarius, a former Navy SEAL, former CIA officer, and currently a Lieutenant in a career fire department in the Midwest. It was originally published on Sandboxx.

A dual-company fire station in a typical American city of 160,000 is fully-staffed 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It includes two fire companies — a fire engine (pumper) with a crew of 3-4 and a ladder truck also with a crew of 3-4, for example. It might also house a Battalion Chief and an Air Van operator who provides the bottles of compressed air that firefighters rely on to survive in a smoke-filled environment.

In other words, the station has anywhere from 8-10 personnel present there at all times. In normal times, the crews there are not only busy each day running calls, hosting community events in the public community room, giving station tours, putting up smoke alarms in the community, and training; they also have a regular stream of visitors to the station that includes family members, citizens stopping in with problems, issues, or just to say “thank you” and to give the crews some homemade baked goods.

All of that — with the exception of running the calls — has come to a sudden stop. We are not living in normal times. The fire station is now a (hopefully) decontaminated safe zone in the middle of an infected hot zone. This is Pandemic America. No more community room events. No more unnecessary interaction with the public. No more visitors to the station, of any kind. We are hunkered down. We are holed up. We respond when we have to. Otherwise, we lay low.

When the tones drop, and we have a call to respond to, it feels like we are making excursions out of our safe zone, into the infected zone, to extinguish fires, treat car wreck victims, or care for patients experiencing medical emergencies of some type. People are still delivering babies in Walmart. They are still overdosing. They are still having heart attacks. They still need us, and we will respond, and with the same sense of mission and purpose as always. We know we are lucky to still have jobs that are paying us to do what we love and that people still need us.

A change has occurred, though, in our psychological responses to these excursions outside the wire. In normal times, medical emergencies from the firefighter’s point of view are the “routine” calls. They are the most frequent type of call, by far, and normally produce the least amount of adrenaline within each firefighter. They stimulate much less “excitement” in the mind of a firefighter, in relative terms, when compared to responding for a fire in a house, for example. They are — usually — just not that complicated and do not get us too mentally worked up (with the notable exception of delivering babies out in public: that is ALWAYS stressful).

Things have changed. In Pandemic America, in the time the of COVID-19, a responding firefighter hears a medical emergency call come in, and he or she waits with breath briefly held, and a burst of trepidation upon hearing that the patient has those worrying signs and symptoms. Cough. Fever. Trouble breathing. Aches and pains. Pneumonia. When the Dispatcher provides that information, it kicks the responding crew into a new type of response.