Some of the most memorable and also the worst moments of my job? I have seen it all pretty much. There was this one time I had to recover 3 dead bodies of the Romanians from the sewage. I had to go down and collect them myself and you don’t ever say “bleh”. It’s your job and you feel obliged to do it. Another time I had to help a donkey that fell in a well. I went in and tried to calm him down so I could put a belt around him and the truck could pull him up. Another time a body of a Russian lady in Ermioni that had been in the water for days so we could not touch it. There was also a dead refugee that the waves brought all the way to Poros. It wasn’t with this refugee wave, that was in 2010. The port police could not recover him and that is when they use us, the firefighters, with our special equipment to recover the body.
As horrifying as it might seem, I never thought of my job as being difficult. I feel I’m doing good all the time. We are serving the people and the society. It is a service, not a job. In the beginning it was much harder, but with years of experience you don’t feel horrified. I still remember the first accident I had to attend to. The lady was trapped in the car, she was screaming, we tried to pull back her seat. Her legs were completely crashed. There was a lot of blood, she was shouting and hitting us, which was very hard for us to manage. When people are in that much pain, they say whatever comes to their tongue. They can even insult you, just because they are suffering so much. But after years of doing it, you become cold, sort of immune to that.
But my worst experience ever is when I almost died in a fire on Poros. That was in 2007, summer time. I was not on duty that day. I went to pick up a newspaper from a local shop. It was around noon when the fire started. Everybody could see it on Poros. I grabbed my motorbike and I went straight there. When I arrived on the spot, there were just a few local inhabitants around the area so I gave some instructions as to what they should do in order to stay safe. Then the fire truck came, but not from our firestation, from the municipality of Poros. There was only one person in it, the driver. Unfortunately he made a big mistake and he went inside the forest with the truck. The fire was just 100m away from him. It was obvious to me that he needed help. I ran there immediately to help him, but by that time, the fire expanded to the other side too. We were surrounded by it and there was only one way to escape – to go up to the mountain. The fire was so strong that objects started catching fire even when they were 10m away from it. The heat was just unbearable. The paint in the car started to get bubbles, you know, from the heat. That is when I realised we are probably going to burn…I told the driver – RUN!
There is a myth in our department that the pine cones are responsible for spreading the fire in the forest when they burst from the heat, but it is not true. The fire spreads because of the temperature. The temperature of the fire we were surrounded by was probably around 300 degrees. It just burns you. So we started running. That was the time when I called my colleague, the chief, and told him: “I’m going to die, please take care of my wife and my children”. He was shocked… During the time we were running, I was trying to find a whole where I could hide and wait for the fire to reach me. But then I thought to myself: “not like that!”. The man from the municipality was struggling to run. I tried to encourage him all the time: “run, don’t give up!”. Then we got lucky! We reached a small path that was going down the hill, towards the sea. That was our chance to save ourselves – you know, the fire cannot go down the hill that easily, so I knew this was the only chance. We managed to reach an empty spot and escape the fire! The ambulance came to fetch the other guy, who just collapsed and I stayed for another 2 days helping to put the fire down. When our firetrucks came, I took them to the places I knew they would be able to walk and approach the fire. That is also when I lost my wedding ring. Because of the heat my fingers got swollen so I put the ring on another finger and I lost it somewhere in that forest. Since that time I don’t wear my wedding ring.
There are two lessons I learnt from this experience:
- Never get close to the fire when it is on top of the trees.
- I felt that I was going to sacrifice my own life to save absolutely everyone. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t. Of course it’s different when you are saving your own family, children. But when you are facing death, your instinct tells you to save yourself. That is the truth.
During all this time my wife Eleni knew nothing. She had no idea what was happening. I only called her when we were safe, by the sea. I think I cried then…