Thursday, January 31, 2008

"The TOLL"


What You’ve ‘Got’

When you became a firefighter
No one gave you a magic pill
They trained you on what to do
Put you through drill after drill
But when the time comes to act
You turn within to find the will

Actions are what will show
What it is you’re made of
When you’re put to the test
And push comes to shove
All questions will be answered
With some help from above

Sometimes it’s rewarding
And sometimes it’s not
Sometimes it’s depressing
And that happens a lot
But it’s always a challenge
To see what you’ve ‘got’

Have you ‘got’ the strength
To drag a man out
Of an apartment that’s ablaze
And no one else about
Do you have what it takes
With no room for doubt

Have you ‘got’ the courage
To crawl into a room
Heat and smoke charge the air
Like a hot, musty tomb
Do you have the balls
To face your own doom

Have you ‘got’ the heart
To face all your fears
And move forward still
No time for your tears
And can you do it again
Year after year

Have you ‘got’ the compassion
To hold someone’s hand
As their life slips away
You still issue commands
In a battle with destiny
You seem under manned

Have you ‘got’ the stamina
To raise up a ladder
Then climb the three flights
To where they last saw her
Squeeze through the window
‘cause she’s all that matters

Oblivious to the inferno
That rages around you
You search room by room
It’s all you can do
As the heat and exertion
Run you right through

You press ever onward
For she is your mission
You refuse to consider
A negative disposition
You need to reach her
No matter her condition

While your air supply dwindles
You feel her little shoe
Grab her and drag her back
You’re now born anew
Finding the strength once again
To do what you need to do

If you’ve ‘got’ all these qualities
And maybe a few more
You ‘might’ have what it takes
To walk through the door
Of a firehouse in America
To help wage our war

Copyright 2007 - Tom Kenney


Firemen are men who care
About their fellow man
Whenever they are called to help
They do the best they can

They offer aid to those in need
No matter who they are
It makes no difference – rich or poor
Homeless man or star

It matters only, that you called
For assistance with your plight
For they are here to protect and serve
Every single day and night

They call themselves a ‘Brotherhood’
They’re united in their cause
To stand together, shoulder to shoulder
To battle these urban wars

But make no mistake, despite their duty
To the citizens they serve
It’s for the ‘brother’ who stands beside them
Their loyalties are reserved

Tom Kenney - 2006


I can’t forget the time I spent
Putting out the fires
Though I try my best, I never do
No matter my desires

I go to sleep and try to think
Of nothing but my wife
But I lie in bed, and live again
The chaos of my life

My shoulder aches, and I return
To the night upon the ladder
Suddenly it slips, and I grab ahold
Of a lightpost I had straddled

From on the roof, four hands appear
Grab me by the arm
They pull me up, and though I feel the pain
They keep me safe from harm

So I roll over and change positions
To try to continue sleeping
But now my knee begins to ache
And I picture myself creeping

As I crawl along a smoky floor
I fall headfirst in a hole
Hurtling downward toward the dark
I fear for my very soul

But just in time, a brother saves me
By lunging on my knee
He keeps me from falling into the pit
And drags me up, I’m free

Once again I moan, and try to find
A comfortable spot on the bed
As I finally begin to drift asleep
I see visions in my head

I see a baby with her face chewed off
Another under a truck
A young man crushed in an elevator
Where he had gotten stuck

I picture a family dead on the stairs
Who had tried to get out
A baby pulled lifeless from his room
And I hear his mother shout

I wake up sweating, get out of bed
And get myself a drink
Take some pills and wash them down
While standing by the sink

After a moment, the shaking subsides
And I’m ready to try again
As I pull the covers over my head
I try to shut down my brain

It works for awhile, but then I feel
A throbbing in my neck
And once again I’m back in time
To a night I’d rather forget

Every night, it’s always the same
As soon as I go to bed
It seems the pain I feel in my body
Triggers the pain in my head

Copyright 2005 - Tom Kenney


I see ghosts around every corner
Every time we go for a ride
No matter how I try to keep them away
I can never seem to hide

Hide myself from their ghastly grip
In attempts to keep myself sane
For reliving each terrible memory
Will only cause more pain

It’s always the images of the dead I see
And never of those we’ve saved
It seems they’re bored and restless
Just lying in their graves

They come out all together sometimes
When I’m feeling most depressed
And haunt my visions and my dreams
Thus preventing much-needed rest

That vacant lot used to house
A mother and her five babes
One fiery night not long ago
We were unable to come to their aid

Another turn, and down the street
Stands a tree with a mark on its side
One helpless night a few years back
I watched as a young girl died

Driving further from my station, away from here
Doesn’t keep the ghosts away
It only reminds me of other horrors
Of a slightly more distant day

I’ve served in this city for twenty-five years
So there are ghosts all over town
I can never predict when they’ll rear their heads
And begin to drag me down

I know in my heart I did all I could
To save them from their fates
But I can’t seem to shake their eternal screams
And wonder what next awaits

Tom Kenney - 2006

My Cry For Help

I spend my time writing
‘cause it soothes my soul
whether an article or poem
salvation is my goal
for by writing things down
I can lessen their toll

Words seem to flow
with the greatest of ease
when I open up my heart
and allow the release
of these pent up emotions
and it brings me some peace

My deliverance from pain
may be only short term
I simply begin another
as I attempt to learn
how to hold me together
‘til my salvation I earn

I’ve spent most of my life
failing at some role
whether as son or as husband
I could not seem to control
how my action toward others
might takes its toll

As a father I hoped that
I’d finally succeed
at giving my children
everything they’d need
but alas, even in this role
I failed in my deeds

Now my father lay dying
and we don’t even speak
my brothers and my sister
pretend not to be piqued
I feel I’ve been wronged
And can’t turn the other cheek

I pretend it doesn’t hurt me
but it cuts like a knife
when the people I loved most
cut me out of their life
treat me like a stranger
and turn their back on my wife

My wife has been my shelter
from the storm of my world
while my job and my family
have thrown my head in a whirl
so when she doesn’t get me
To emotional chaos I’m hurled

My strength just deserts me
my confidence is shattered
I feel like I’ve lost touch with
everything that once mattered
my life’s like an empty vessel
that’s been tossed, torn and tattered

It seems no one hear the meanings
of the writings on the page
misunderstanding my intentions
as I rant and I rage
can’t they recognize the anger as
my plea from this cage…
…my cry for help

Tom Kenney - 2006

Harken My Angel

Harken my angel, pray for me
Your love will pull me through
As I lay here under burning debris
After being torn from my crew

I know that when I left this morn’
You were still snug in our bed
But I softly whispered “I love you”
As I kissed you on your head

We both knew it could come to this
Though we never thought it would
I’d take back all the wasted days
If only there were a way I could

I only wandered a few feet away
From my guys and our hose
I went to check for any more fire
To find it before it grows

Crawling down the hallway
And through a door on the right
I never thought I’d lose my way
I tried to keep them in sight

All of a sudden the smoke grew thick
Blinding me on the spot
A corner of the floor collapsed
And the room was instantly hot

I turned around to make my way out
But I couldn’t locate the door
Something had fallen, blocking my way
Something not there before

As I tried to make it to the hall
I began to feel I was lost
I knew instantly the only way out
Was over the threshold I had crossed

Suddenly I was floating downward
Surprisingly peacefully
An abrupt jolt stopped my fall
Eyes open but unable to see

Total darkness and quiet at first
I’ve experienced this before
But when I realized I couldn’t move
It chilled me to the core

For I was trapped, no way to escape
Unless the others found me
My faith in my brothers, however, ran deep
They would rally around me

As my air ran low and pain set in
I could hear the crackle of the fire
Another sound was filtering through
Fueling my hopes ever higher

I could hear my brothers shouting my name
And though I couldn’t yell back
I knew they were on their way
Refocusing their attack

It was then that I began to drift
From reality to my dreams
That’s when I thought of you, my love
How distant this morn’ seems

Was that the last time I’d kiss your face
Or would there be many more
Lost in this dream my spirit takes flight
And my soul begins to soar

Their shouts are now closer and louder
But I cannot hear
Ever closer they get, a race against time
I no longer feel any fear

Harken my angel, pray for me…

Tom Kenney - 11/9/07

Last Day

I got up this morning, slipped out of the house
Not wanting to wake her
Went to work and had coffee with the boys
Waiting for something to occur

If only I’d known…

Talking to the kids last night, just touching base
Leaving so much unsaid
“See you tomorrow, and we’ll catch up”
I wish we had talked, instead

If only I’d known…

Working on an Engine Company in the big city
And my crew is the best
But not enough “attaboy’s” for the job they do
One day I’ll say “I’m impressed”

If only I’d known…

Fighting last night over a silly TV show
Not wanting to miss it
Not telling her later that the time we shared
Was just what we needed to revisit

If only I had known…

You never know, especially in this business
What may be in store
You take for granted that you’ll return home
And just pick up from before

If I’d only known…

Even the dispatch was nothing unusual
A fire in a basement
We raced to the scene, one thought in my mind
That of extinguishment

If only I’d known…

Descending the stairs, through all the smoke
To see what we’ve got
A glow in the corner, beckoned to me
It didn’t seem like a lot

If only I’d known…

“Go get the line and I’ll wait right here”
I barked to my guys
When they returned, it had gotten much worse
The fire had tripled in size

If only I had known…

Cut off from the stairway, I couldn’t get out
I was lost in the smoke
I ran out of air before they could find me
And I began to choke

If I had only known…

Of all the regrets dancing in my head
Before I lost my life
My biggest regret was from that morning
I hadn’t kissed my wife

If I had only known…that this was my last day!

Tom Kenney -- 2007


I usually write to the Providence Journal in defense of the Providence Firefighters and our union when some politician or taxpayer writes and complains that we are too greedy or privileged. I defend the job we do as Providence Firefighters and point out the hazards we face on a daily basis. I point out the fact that we are understaffed and under paid for the type of work we do. I show that many of the popular beliefs regarding firefighters in general, and Providence Firefighters in particular, are simply negative stereotypes placed on us by these same politicians and disgruntled taxpayers.

I need to state that I am tired of the abuse put upon us by these vocal opponents. As for their taxes going up as a result of our pay raises and benefits – so what? I don’t mean that in an uncaring or “in your face” type of way, but rather in a true question of why that makes us any different than the rest of the working population. The same taxpayer who complains about public unions causing a rise in his taxes may very well work for Coca-Cola or some other soft drink manufacturer for example. He/she may have just received a 5% raise and an increase in company benefits that cause the company to raise their prices to distributors. He/she may work for Wal-Mart and may have just received a raise due to the raising of minimum wage or have just qualified for company benefits because they’ve begun to work over 20 hours per week. Either way, when enough of these workers have their compensation elevated it begins to cut into corporate profits, causing the company to raise prices for the products the rest of us have to purchase. This is the way our economy works.

He/she may be a retired person who supplements his/her retirement income with money earned from dividends and investments. This person follows his investments very carefully and dumps any assets that are not earning him the maximum profit. These are the shareholders that corporate executives claim are the reason that justifies corporate greed. He/she may very well be an over-paid and incredibly over-compensated Editor for the Providence Journal writing about the Providence Firefighters’ burden on the City’s taxpayers while sailing on his private yacht to Long Island or the Caribbean. Then, after putting us in our place, he dictates a memo to the appropriate department at ProJo stating that the newspaper is going to discontinue printing obituaries for free – corporate profits have been under performing.

Why is it that the only people who get blamed for the rising cost of living are government employees? People seem to notice that when a firefighter or policeman or teacher get a raise because the politicians talk about raising taxes. They fail to tell the taxpayers that all the other costs of providing those services have also risen and that is a major reason that the costs are up – heating fuel, gasoline, electricity, vehicles, equipment, etc. Why isn’t the public up in arms when their oil company driver gets a dollar-an-hour raise and their oil company raises their price a penny a gallon? Utility prices rise because of many different factors – employee raises and corporate greed among them. These increased prices force a landlord of a strip mall to raise his rent to the four or five small businesses eeking out a living there. These businesses are forced to raise their prices to keep up with their increased fees. The consumers ultimately pick up the tab for all increases. Every increase of business expense has a reciprocal effect – such is the case with government expenses also.

It’s time for politicians and taxpayers and editors to stop accusing government employees of being the cause of all our financial problems. Governmental wasteful spending should be sought out and eliminated. No one wants to have to pay for patronage jobs or unnecessary positions, but it is not good policy to cut spending at the expense of hard-working, dedicated employees. Especially when these people are the ones that are shouldering the daily duties that are necessary to keep the rest of us safe from harm.

Lt. Tom Kenney
Providence Fire Department