“There were two dogs”

Please be aware that this story has a disturbing topic.

We were sprawled in a booth at our favorite restaurant. Talking about the usual: future plans, funny memories, family drama.

The conversation turned to his new job.

In January, my husband Sung began working at a fire department an hour away from us. It’s an internship which means he gets to do everything the full time firefighters do, for minimal pay. Or rather he is getting paid in experience.

And there is abundant experience. Although it’s a small town, the station gets a lot of calls. He’s been to half a dozen structure fires and just as many vehicle fires. Also grass fires, because it’s a rural area and even winter is fire season in California.

I knew that last week, Sung was the one who took the hose into the fire when someone’s backyard was in flames. I guess being “on the nozzle” is big deal.

“I want to tell you something about that night” he said.

I was surprised, because he usually doesn’t say much about his shifts. This is what he told me:

When I was on the nozzle that night, I got tunnel vision. I was walking toward the two-story shed that was on fire. Then this dog ran out of the flames and came up to me. I looked down and it was a bulldog on a chain, whining and looking up at me with the biggest puppy eyes.

In the back of my mind I kept thinking, “someone needs to take care of this dog, someone needs to get this dog out of here.” But I was so focused on putting out the fire. My hands were glued to the nozzle. So I kept moving forward and the dog disappeared from my sight.

After we put the fire out, we were spraying everything down. And I realized I was spraying the dog. Well, it was the shape of a dog lying on its back but it was burnt like charcoal and the smell was horrible. Then the next thing I knew the homeowner was on her knees sobbing next to the body. I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell her that I could have saved her dog but I didn’t? I said nothing.

Tears filled my eyes. I thought about our two dogs and the grief I would feel if one of them died like that. I tried to hide my emotions when the server brought our check.

“It’s alright,” I told Sung, “at least it wasn’t a human person, everyone makes mistakes, it’s-“

“Wait,” he said, “so all week I was thinking about it and feeling so awful that I didn’t save that dog. And then, last shift I brought it up to the firefighter who had been at that fire with me.

“Remember the dog that died?” I asked him, “I saw it when I was going into the fire.”

“Oh, that dog?” he said, “I saw it come up to you. I was right behind you. I unchained it and brought it around to the front.”

“What?”

“Yeah man, we saved that dog. The owner had two dogs. None of us saw that other dog, the one that died.

I started laughing in relief.

He laughed at me. “You thought you were a dog killer huh?”

Sung and I stacked the empty plates and bowls like Tetris and wiped the crumbs from the table.

“I want to remember this story” he finally said.

“I will write it down” I told him.

“What’s the moral?” he said, “every story has to have a lesson.”

“Not to get tunnel vision?” I offered.

He leaned toward me. “No. It’s to not hold stuff in. I didn’t need to have this weighing on my mind for a week. If I had spoken up right after the fire, they would have told me there were two dogs.”

28 thoughts on ““There were two dogs”

  1. This is it right here:

    “If I had spoken up right after the fire, they would have told me there were two dogs.””

    A life is a life. I would’ve been devastated as I’m sure your husband was before he learned there were two dogs. This hit hard this morning. Thanks for sharing it. Peace to Sung for what he does. I know it’s NOT easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After I wrote it all out, I felt a worry about what would’ve happened if Sung talked to his coworker and found out that there was indeed only one dog. There may be a moment like that in his future career and I just hope he has the right support to handle it.
      Anyways…..pardon me as I continue my post in this comment thread…. 😅 What I really wanted to say is thank you for reading and for sharing your insights, and for the kind words of encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad the one dog was ok; it’s shame about the other one. But it could have been that your husband’s focus on putting out the fire was the best thing to do to increase the chances of saving the other dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That certainly is a story worth remembering. I’m glad your husband finally learned the truth, even if it took a week. I think communication is important, and knowing that it’s safe to communicate is also important. I think that when we don’t have to worry about blame or shame, we can feel free to communicate the things that weigh heavy upon us, and find some resolution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s the type of person to keep stuff to himself, which isn’t a good idea in this career. So I’m grateful that he’s contemplating how helpful it is to communicate. I hope he always feels safe to speak his mind with his coworkers.

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow – that is a powerful story with a great moral. I have a friend from college that has been a firefighter for 30 years. It seems like with all they see, it is a great idea to not keep it in.

    Thanks for sharing this story so well, LiziRose!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In 30 years I can only imagine how many traumatic things have happened on the job. I like how Ab called it, “internalizing feelings”… not healthy for any of us but it’s especially harmful for first responders.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am so glad there was a weight lifted over Sung’s shoulders. Very sorry for the dog that perished but I am glad to hear he didn’t have that guilt live on. And yes, what a lesson to learn about not internalizing our feelings!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What an interesting story. I mean even if he made this mistake, which he didn’t, it is ok. I mean as a rescuer, one makes decisions in split second. I mean when there’s a fire or a flood, which do you save? You make the decision and you can only save one. It is hard that we all want to be the best that we can be, but we are only human. People working in essential jobs often have to make difficult decisions. That’s really hard. What if it is two big dogs coming to you and you only have the strength to save one? For the one you end up saving, you probably don’t think it as much as the one you haven’t saved, which haunt your memory. I hope this will never happen, but reality is unpredictable…Oh, I am getting pessimistic again. Don’t listen to anything I said.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I could not agree more. And thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts here, because this is the idea I was originally trying to add to my post but then I couldn’t quite fit it in the story. And you said it even better anyways. Reality is unpredictable and we have to make a choice in a split second, hoping it’s the best choice— for first responders that choice can literally be life or death. Or saving one life but losing another. I have a strong feeling not every story will have a guilt-free “happy” ending…so maybe I am pessimist too. Thank you as always for your insights! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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