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I’ve never been an overly religious guy. I don’t go to church every Sunday like I did when I was a kid – like I probably should. I do feel, however, that I’m a spiritual person. I say some sort of prayer of thanks virtually every day.  I do believe that there is a greater power in the universe and that we, as humans, have some sort of purpose here in our lives.


I’ve also spent my entire adult life as a firefighter in a major urban department. I’ve seen and experienced some things I wish I never had. The same can be said for countless other firefighters and police officers from Providence and elsewhere; some of whom I’ve worked with and many more that simply share many of the same experiences. When I look back over the years I truly believe that God has taken care of many of us in ways we’d never expect.

For instance, I’ve experienced ceilings and walls crashing in on me, falling through holes in stairs and floors, numerous cuts from glass or sheet metal, being lost in a burning apartment, a serious motor vehicle accident and many other serious situations that put me in fear for my life. I’ve made it through all of the above, by the grace of God, and these close calls gave me a sense of being indestructible. This feeling allowed me to continue to do my job to the best of my ability without the fear that could paralyze me at an emergency scene. Believe me, I’ve lost that feeling of invincibility as I’ve grown older and retired. I feel all of those injuries now and I just try to suck it up and carry on.

Also, many years of exposure to sirens, air horns and diesel engines have dulled my hearing to the point where I really now lead a life of muffled silence. This condition is common to firefighters. I believe that this is God’s way of softening the effect of having to listen to people who are in the throes of agony at emergency scenes. We need to keep our heads about us and do our best to provide life-saving first aid and assistance when the people are savable, and compassion and peace when they are not. Hearing the sounds of true desperation and guttural fear only get in the way of doing your job in the best manner possible. Again, this might seem callous or cruel but it is necessary in the heat of the moment.

Most of our interior firefighting takes place behind an air-pac and facepiece. These masks fog up and get covered with debris that makes it tough to see anything in the fire building until the fire is just about extinguished and the smoke dissipates. Add to this the fact that heavy smoke itself is like a thick black blanket which, even in the best of conditions regarding your mask, make it impossible to see your hand in front of your face. These conditions help firefighters by blurring the horrible images we sometimes encounter in fires where people are hurt or killed by fire. As you can imagine, this is one of the worst sights a person could encounter, therefore working in conditions that limit clear vision is a blessing in disguise. Most of us have enough clear visions that haunt us so those that were slightly obscured by the conditions are easier to live with.

The single sense that has been affected the most by the inhalation of so much smoke over the years in my case, and in that of many firefighter’s, is my sense of smell. I wish I had my full sense of smell now that I’m retired but during my years on the job there were many times that I was thankful that I couldn’t smell the horrific odors that would bring some to the brink of vomiting. The scents of decomposing bodies on a hot day and especially that of burnt flesh could linger in your nostrils for days and in your mind forever. The gradual, but fairly rapid, loss of my sense of smell is one of God’s greatest gifts to me – for which I’m forever grateful.

Still, there are still enough vivid memories that creep into my dreams during sleepless nights. I can only imagine how much worse they’d be without those filters God provided me to lessen the horror of some of those images.


Until next month…stay safe & healthy!!

Tom Kenney

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the monthly commentary “The Way I See It” are Tom Kenney’s and not necessarily those of The Providence Police & Firefighters Retirement Association.

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