The United States, I believe, is blessed with the best damned emergency responders, period. Fire, rescue, EMS, training, certification, equipment, you name it. We are, in my mind, the best of the best. And in your heart you should believe that your fire department, your EMS service, your engine, truck, squad, ambulance, paramedic unit, is the very best that there is. And your belief should be genuine - when you wear the emblem of your service it should be with pride, dignity, and ultimate humility. For the fire service you see, does not belong to us. It was here long before any of us were around and it will be here long after all of us are gone - and it will endure.
That is as it should be - we are stewards of a gift entrusted to us by those who have gone before. Proud responders who risked their lives and faced down incredible dangers for no other reason than to protect and serve their community, and at a time when there were no seatbelts, SCBA, enclosed cabs, or personal protective equipment to shield them from the very same dangers you face today.
And they were proud, and fierce, and arrogant - you can see it in their eyes in pictures on the walls of fire stations and museums, their voices almost pouring out of those images to tell us stories of their exploits and events. "We are the best of the best" their faces proclaim - They were invincible, fearless and courageous. They responded, fought, lived, and died in much the same way that we do today.
Courage, it is said, is not the absence of fear - it is, rather, action in the face of fear. It is about the idea of service above self when the most imperiled call upon us to place ourselves between harm and those we have sworn an oath to protect. It is important to remember that oath - whether spoken or unspoken. The moment you were called to duty; sought out, and were accepted into this family (and it is a family) you became part of something bigger than yourself. There is a rarely spoken and certainly unwritten part of that oath that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do - it is the promise we make to each other. It is the part where we look each other square in the eye and know that when one of us is trouble, the rest of us will be there.
We expect our actual families (moms and dads, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, children) to accept the risks of that oath when we take it. You see, that oath does not stop with us. When we sign up, we are signing our families up, and we expect them to willingly accept the consequences of our actions without question, without hesitation, without reservation. Although our families never want to lose us we expect them to understand and accept that if one of us is called to make that ultimate sacrifice, we were exactly where we wanted to be - doing exactly what we wanted to do.
We commemorate the death, and more importantly, the life of a brother or sister responder fallen in the line -of -duty with such pageantry. Class A uniforms, apparatus processions, caissons, honor guards, trumpets, bagpipes, and bells. We do all of this to honor their life of service, and because we do not know what else to do in our time of grief, and ultimately because we cannot do the one thing that we want to do more than anything else ... bring that loved one back to their family. We know also that, but for the grace of God, go us. We bury our hearts, our feelings, our guilt. We know the real truth about the circumstances of their death, because we are on the inside. We know things that those outside of the service do not know.
It does not take courage to plan, lead or participate in a LODD funeral; erect a monument; or establish a trust fund - these are things that may make us feel better, but do little to erase the pain of those left behind. They cannot fill the void of children left without a parent, wives without a husband, daughters with no one to walk them down the aisle on their wedding day, sons without a role model; parents burying one of their children. These thoughts do not enter our minds while we are busy feeding our egos as we break every common sense rule designed to keep us alive.