When others are running from danger, what kind of man or woman chooses to run intodanger instead? How many people ever stop to think of the job our local firefighters and policemen do? I watched, at length, the funerals in Buffalo NY today for two brave firefighters who died in the line of duty. About 6,000 firefighters from across the country and Canada came to pay respects, a solid line of blue uniforms and white gloves raised in salute or covering hearts. Lt. Charles McCarthy and Firefighter Jonathan Croom heard that there was someone trapped in the basement of a fire and they did not hesitate to go in to search, to try to save someone from the raging fire. When the floor collapsed, McCarthy and Croom were trapped and became victims of the fire themselves. It is a sad irony that no trace of another person was found in that basement. There was no need for them to have gone in; no need for them to have died. Some will say they should have waited to be sure, but they did what they were trained to do. When fire takes over, every second counts and firefighters don’t have a lot of time to sit and weigh the consequences. In those who have chosen to serve and protect, it is instinctive to face the danger head on. It is an extraordinary gift to have the heart to put another life before your own. these brave men and women are ready every day to do just that and we often give little thought to what that means, or how valuable they really are.
After 9/11, firefighters were revered and respected and we could not say enough about the sacrifice of those men following the destruction of the World Trade Centers. There were honors and parades and tributes, all richly deserved. A new respect for boys in blue, both policemen and firemen took hold. It was good. Eight years later we may have slipped back into our complacency. There have been no national disasters to rally our patriotism and gratitude. As we mourn and honor two men who made the supreme sacrifice, we really need to honor those who serve and are willing to take that same risk every day. Let’s give them our thanks while they are here to hear it.
Growing up on the east side of Buffalo in the 1950s, I have fond memories of the local fire houses, where the firemen would often be sitting outside. They took time to answer silly kid questions, show us the firetrucks or even join in a game of jacks. We thought it was pretty neat that they got to hang around during the day while our dads were off to the steel plant or auto factories. They acted as neighborhood guardians and we were taught to give them unflinching respect. If there was a neighborhood fire in those days a crowd would gather, but it had a different feel then- it wasn’t some exciting show to watch. Neighbors were standing by to aid the victims, wrapping them in blankets and offering to make phone calls (noot everyone had a home phone and cell phones were a Dick tracy fantasy). The older ladies stood in prayer, clutching rosary beads and making the sign of the cross. Someone would always bring cold drinks in the summer or hot coffee in the winter to weary firefighters. It was an honor and a duty to assist in any way possible. We were in awe of those men (no ladies back then) who braved the smoke and fire no matter what the weather or time of day. Those were the heroes of my generation.
I live in a small, rural community now. Our Barker Fire Department is an all-volunteer operation. We may move at a generally slower pace here in cow country, but when that siren goes off and scanners buzz, we have brave and dedicated men and women who drop what they were doing to respond. They may have been plowing a field, fixing a transmission or peeling potatoes for dinner; it all stops as they race to someone in need. The word “volunteer” may be lumped with amateur or unprofessional because few people realize the amount of training these volunteers must go through to become firefighters. Training in many areas continues while they are members. It is a huge commitment that is embraced by all too few members of the community. There’s nothing rinky-dink about local volunteer fire companies anywhere. They are dedicated people who already have jobs they do to earn a living. They have chosen to serve their community and neighbors as professionals. Our lives and property are in their hands and we rely on them. We can go to sleep peacefully at night, without having to wonder what would happen if lightning hit the house or the garage burned. While we sleep we are blessedly unaware of the car crash that needed the jaws of life or the dairy cows that were herded out of a burning barn before it collapsed. As I watched those funerals today, I felt a little guilty. Our Barker Fire Volunteer Company, and those nearby who aid us, give me peace of mind. What do I do for them? Yes, I try to be supportive of fundraisers and events when I can, but when was the last time I said “Thank You?”
I’m saying it now. To every man and woman who wears the uniform of a firefighter, I salute you. I say a prayer of gratitude for your noble service and a continuing prayer for your safety. I pray for those families who have lost loved ones, like Lt. McCarthy and Firefighter Croom. I say thank you to all those wives, husbands and children who have had to attend events alone, or have their parent miss a softball game and who wait patiently while their spouse or parent puts the needs and lives of others, often strangers, first. During the services today, Croom’s mother spoke about people saying “You must be so proud…” Her response was “I have always been proud.” That’s a very profound statement. It’s important that we let our public servants know that we are not only proud of those who have given their lives, but of all those who stand willing to make any sacrifice when that siren sounds. Yes, we are proud…and grateful. We’ll try hard not to take you for granted. Thank you for all you do.
Well done, Chip and Jonathan… good and faithful servants, well done.