Captain Randy Nickerson of the Denton, Texas Fire
Department has written a fun and insightful book
spanning his twenty years as a firefighter-paramedic.
Each of the fifty-six short chapters is either a brief
glimpse into a real call that has stuck with
Nickerson, or some personal insight into what working
a 24-hour shift is like. He quickly dispenses the
myth that firefighters get paid to sleep. He has an
exercise the reader can do to become a believer and
give the firefighter even more respect.
How Do You Dial 9-1-1? is a quick read and is
good for more than a handful of laughs. There are a
few surprises in the book that may not be appropriate
for all readers. These surprises are graphic scenes
of accidents or suicides and are not at all
lighthearted like the majority of the book.
Captain Nickerson's customers are people who are
having "really bad" days. Some of these bad days
include vehicle accidents and suicide; which are
described briefly yet succinctly. A few scenes are
graphic enough to stay with the reader almost as long
as they have stayed with Nickerson.
Nickerson has a fantastic way with subtle humor. In describing the tank that a firefighter wears on his back, Nickerson says
“In order for the facemask to be of any significant value, an eighteen-pound compressed air bottle assembly is strapped to one’s back. It contains compressed room air. Not pure oxygen. Oxygen is a primary ingredient in promoting combustion, so we think it best not to add to the chances that we will get French-fried inside a burning building if we spring a leak.”
Each chapter is titled and identified with a fictional
date, time and street address as an appetizer to the
main course. The type of call is real, but not very
descriptive - a realistic glimpse into what
firefighter-paramedics deal with as they approach a
call. Unconscious person, structure fire, vehicle
fire, motor vehicle accident, injured person, and
medical emergency are the most common calls. A
person's mind can go wild with these two- to
three-word descriptors of incidents that turn out to
be forever burned into a memory. Nickerson's story
telling lends credence to the saying that life is
stranger than fiction.
How Do You Dial 9-1-1? describes the
firefighter-paramedic career. It isn't always
glamorous, easy, or rewarding. It's full of stress,
dirt, danger, and various extremes intensified by
unpredictability. Most days Nickerson loves his job,
other days he hates it. Some days he is bored stiff
with lack of activity, other days he's grateful to get
home and sleep for as long as possible.
Question posed by Nickerson: how do you dial 9-1-1?
The day of the rotary phone has passed for the most
part. Pressing or pounding 9-1-1 is perhaps more
accurate, but regardless of how a person places the
phone call, firefighter-paramedics respond with their
adrenaline pumping and their thoughts focused on doing
their best for someone who is having a "really bad"
Nickerson's book was born when he wrote a
prize-winning essay for a literature course at North
Central Texas College and his mentor encouraged him to
pull together memorable career experiences. Quick!
How Do You Dial 9-1-1? is insightful, heart-wrenching,
and a good way to show that sometimes laughter is the
only viable response to a situation.
This book is fun and very quick to read with its
three-page average per chapter. There are a handful of
graphic descriptions depicting accident scenes and
suicide attempts that sneak up on the reader. The
scenes are real. The scenes are well described. The
scenes could have been toned down so as not to be so
shocking, but the reader should know that they are in