Webster defines "hero/heroine" as "a man/woman celebrated for special achievements and attributes." Pick up any newspaper or printed medium on any given day, and the word "hero" is used in reference to our modern firefighters. Despite millennium technology in firefighting tools, it still comes down to a man/woman laying his/her life on the line to do the job. "Hero" is a most appropriate term.
Recently, our fire district hosted a "courage" quilt, created to commemorate firefighters and the sacrifices they make every day for others and it was displayed to our Board of Supervisors. Looking at that beautiful quilt, it occurred to me that the fire service all across our nation is like that quilt. We are all one in our united efforts, but made up of many parts in order to complete the whole American fire service. There are many heroes behind the headlines working to make the fire service in the United States the strong unit that exists today.
The "silent heroes" in your town, your state, your country, continue their jobs day to day making the U.S. a safer place for you and your family, and they seldom make headlines. So I'm saying, yes, thank your local firefighter; smile and wave as he or she drives by and above all, remember his/her ultimate bravery, not only on 9/11, but all year round. Then, consider these "silent heroes":
- Consider the fire service public education officer. Perhaps that officer instructs children and adults over the years, with the simple goal of preparing each individual for the proper reaction to a fire or life emergency. Maybe one child in that fire educator's class remembers to crawl under the smoke; maybe one adult remembers to cool a burn in water immediately or to "Stop, Drop and Roll" when their clothing ignites. That fire educator becomes a silent hero. The fire safety message, in fact, saved a life.
- Consider the arson investigator who uses his vast expertise to determine the cause of a major fire in your city or town. Perhaps there is even an arrest because of that investigator's findings and a criminal is jailed. Perhaps the next fire he was going to ignite was your property, but he is now off the street. No headlines recognize that the investigator is a hero, but in fact, that is the case.
- Consider the fire code enforcement officer who makes sure the commercial buildings are keeping exits clear and safe to protect citizens in case of sudden fire. Every day, they do everything they can to lessen the chance of that fire ever occurring. No headlines here either, but we all reap the benefits of their efforts. How many people give a thought to the new-construction plans checker who makes sure that structure where you will be shopping has an approved fire sprinkler system? These folks work diligently to protect our everyday surroundings and they are "silent heroes".
The fire service is alive with heroes, from the clerical pool, who support the whole department with mountains of swift and accurate paperwork, to the weed-abatement surveyor who encourages your neighbor to mow his four-foot-high weeds, possibly saving your fence, home or life. Consider our emergency dispatchers, who remain calm and precise under tremendous pressure around the clock. They are all 24-hour heroes.
If you are part of our country's fire service "quilt," you are privileged, very fortunate and truly a hero.
JOJY SMITH is fire education coordinator for the Contra Costa County, CA, Fire Protection District.