Several years ago, when I worked in crisis communication for the state health department, many of my colleagues were retired career military types who were working in Emergency Response as a post-retirement job.
Because managing public health emergencies is so relaxing.
As emergency responders, we often worked with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), which is made up of former cops and firefighters who provide training and resources to emergency managers and first responders around the state.
Whenever our agency got together with their agency, there was a lot of hearty back slapping, gallows humor, and stories that started with, "Oh yeah? That's nothing. Let me tell you about. . . "
If you ever want to meet people with more testosterone than former military officers, it's former cops and firefighters. Whenever we met with IDHS, I wore a rain coat to avoid the spray from everyone marking their territories. The room was always so filled with thick mustaches, that even with my bushy goatee, I felt like a 13-year-old kid who just sprouted his first chin hair.
One year, when we had a booth at the Indiana State Fair, IDHS had their booth across the way, promoting personal safety and fire prevention.
That's where I learned irony smells like burned plastic.
As the evening fell and lights came on in the IDHS booth, there was a loud BZZT!, a puff of smoke, and an acrid burning smell as their extension cord overloaded and burst into flames.
"I thought you guys were professionals," I called over, razzing them in a way that only government agencies can do to mask that you really despise each other.
"I love the smell of burning plastic at night," machoed one former firefighter, swaggering out to retrieve the now-melted extension cord.
"That doesn't smell like victory," I told him, citing the obligatory Apocalypse Now response. His mustache pointed finger guns at me and winked.
Emergency responders tend not be very much fun at parties, or anywhere ever, because they see the potential for danger and terrorist attacks in everything. To be fair, it was our job to be hyperaware of the worst that could happen and then prepare for it. I was very good at imagining the worst, which was "me dying."
We trained for responses to flu pandemics, contaminated food supplies, anthrax attacks, and my personal favorite, nuclear bombs.
By "favorite," I mean the thing that worried me constantly, and made me call my wife to make sure we had enough emergency supplies for when terrorists attacked Indianapolis.
But Indiana's emergency responders were soundly trounced in blowing things out of proportion by a single cop from Nova Scotia.
In an article on the CBC website, Officer Bruce O'Reilly of the Halifax Regional Police spoke alarmingly about the biggest danger his city commuters faced: breakfast sandwiches.
"You may as well be chewing on a gun," O'Reilly told the CBC. "All that melted cheese and sausage or bacon? It's game over for concentration."
I imagined Officer O'Reilly, push broom mustache flapping in the breeze, explaining the Brake for Breakfast program, which educates people about driving while eating a breakfast sandwich.
"As soon as you're done swallowing one warm mouthful of salty meat, egg and cheese, you immediately want another. Your mouth waters as you plunge the flavourful disc into your mouth and then ... BANG, you've T-boned a hearse and there's a body on the freeway. That actually happened."
O'Reilly didn't specify whose body, although I assumed it was the already-dead one.
"If you have to eat in the car, fine, just make it something that won't distract you like dry toast or one of those awful green smoothies," said O'Reilly.
Was this guy serious, or was he the master of overdramatization? I mean, the guys in Indiana could be scary, but breakfast sandwiches? What about donuts? Or breakfast burritos? Or even hamburgers for breakfast? Didn't he have anything to say about that?
No. Because it wasn't true. None of it.
It turns out the entire piece was a spoof, and never actually intended to be a real news story, even though it had been reported in dozens of media outlets and blogs. I even believed it.
The clue should have been that it was posted on the "This Is That" site, which, I learned, is a news satire show on CBC radio.
In my defense, I'm not from Canada, and only listen to a couple of Canadian podcasts. Plus, I thought Canadians were too polite for satire. So my misunderstanding is understandable.
The real Halifax police even responded via Twitter, "True or False? Police in NS are holding a grudge against breakfast sandwiches. False. We're more concerned about donuts. Ha ha. . . Eat your breakfast sandwiches responsibly. #RoadSafetyWeek."
But I have to give This Is That credit. I'm skeptical of any news story that looks or sounds a little over the top. It's why I didn't believe Sharknado was a real show at first. And why I don't believe anything on Facebook. But this one got me, hook, line, and bacon.
They painted a picture of an over-enthusiastic first responder who sees a threat behind every rock, or smothered in every slice of cheese. I might have caught the joke if I hadn't worked with these guys for 18 months, but I have too many memories and images from my days protecting Hoosiers from anthrax and contaminated lunch meat.
So, congratulations This Is That, for pulling one over on me. I commend you.
But my goatee will be keeping an eye on you from now on.
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