Fresno firefighter writing poetry about his experiences to cope with trauma and share what first responders deal with

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Fresno firefighter writing poetry to cope with traumatic experiences
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A Fresno Fire captain is writing poems about his experiences as a way to deal with the trauma that comes with being a first responder.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- When you picture a poet, a firefighter might not be the first person you think of. Even if you did, Gary Wedemeyer probably wouldn't be the first firefighter coming to mind.

"If you put me in a lineup with a bunch of firefighters and said pick the one who's writing poetry, I'd probably be the last one they'd pick," Wedemeyer said with a smile. He's been a firefighter for 37 years and works as a captain at Fresno Fire's Station 6 in northeast Fresno.

He got the idea to write poetry after reading a book of poems written by an American soldier in Iraq and thought it might be healthy for him to do the same.

He says he's written seven or eight poems to this point, all based on experiences he's had in the field. Some rhyme and some don't, but all are a somber, sobering look at what first responders see.

"We're thrust in someone's nightmare and a lot of it hits home. It could happen to you and you relate to it. That could be my kid or my mom," he said.

One poem is a vivid look into a call Wedemeyer responded to more than two decades ago that has sat with him ever since titled "A Small Boy":

The walls dance with cockroaches gathering
Trash of floor exposes worn carpet marking small paths to need
Smell that spills from the doorway hinting of tales to behold inside
Mossy watered fish tank comforting the carcass of creatures long since departed
No father lives here
Mommy is in the back bedroom resting a pulseless meth-induced nap
And yet this small boy smiles at me
A rare genuine gem of a smile
He has not learned shame for the rotting teeth in his mouth
He lives here and yet he gives me this smile
My heart aches
Watch Captain Wedemeyer read his poem "A Small Boy"
Captain Gary Wedemeyer reads his poem "A Small Boy", which is based on one of his experiences as a Fresno firefighter.

Wedemeyer says that writing the poems has proven to be an effective way of helping him cope with the trauma that comes with being a first responder.

"Talking about it, writing about it, that does help," he said. He does have to deal with the occasional jokes made at his expense.

"I always thought that was a tough thing, hey nothing bothers me I'm tough. That's not healthy. The ones that are healthy are the ones who come back and talk about it, that's the healthy way to deal with it," he said.

Despite the dangers and trauma that comes with the job, Wedemeyer says he wouldn't choose to do anything else.

"The upside is, sometimes you do CPR and you succeed, sometimes you save someone's child or grandma or house. There's no better feeling," he said

Wedemeyer's poems were put on display at Fresno Fire Station 3 during ArtHop in May, and he expects his wife to encourage him to do it again. In addition to A Small Boy above, two of his other pieces can be viewed below. WARNING: the poems are based on real accounts and some may consider them to be graphic and disturbing in nature.

Folded in wicked ways that a body doesn't
He lays in the rain filled gutter
Clear tears of the cloud gather red momentum and whisk his blood away
I fumble in my mind with where to start
My training slips away, carrying my calmness with it, and I do what I can to unfold him
Death is here and he knows it
He departs earth with an apology for making me come out in the rain
I'm sorry, I thought you were dead
Not in the house
Or on your bed
You chose the porch
And shot your head
Why out here
I look about
The place you chose
To turn lights out
Down you knelt
To face the chair
Clad only in your underwear
The chair did catch
What blood it could fetch
The chair did hold when death did fold
Hair and skull and brain
The chair did catch
What blood it could fetch
But did nothing for the pain
I know this true
Because when I said to you
That looks like it must have hurt
It was you who said
With face painted red
It does hurt and I'm not dead