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A Lesson For Keokuk - From Air France

Many months ago, we wrote a scathing piece of commentary about a sad situation that took place in the heartland of this great nation. I am referring to the shabby treatment of the survivors of those brave firefighters that died serving their community.

You may recall that the city government in Keokuk, Iowa refused to cover the cost of the funerals for their fallen heroes. The response to that commentary was so overwhelming that a great deal of money was raised, including the gracious gift from an anonymous donor that covered the cost of the funerals. While I was saddened by the city’s action, I was proud of the outpouring of help from the fire services all around our country.

Two events during the past few days have caused me to revisit this extremely sensitive topic. They each occurred in widely separated places, and their impact on the world in general could not have been more disparate. But there is a lesson taught in one that needs to bleed over to the other.

Our attention was literally grabbed and shaken violently by the photos of the blazing Concorde jet as it hurtled toward the ground in its date with death. As one who flies a great deal, I can only imagine the horror of the final moments of the doomed plane’s passengers en route to their final rendezvous with fate.

We were then treated to the usual media blitz upon the saddened relatives who have had their privacy torn away by the glare of the cameras and the crush of the reporters. Much has been said and written about every aspect of the flight. And many people have expressed their sympathies to those who lost loved ones. I too wish to add my name to that growing roster.

I recall many past airline disasters, where the airline involved immediately took to their bunkers and hid behind a shield of corporate lawyers. Having listened to many of these people over the years, you could almost hear them saying, "...airplane, our airplane…what airplane?" That is how callous they were. It was as though the deaths of their customers and employees was a distinct inconvenience.

This morning, I received a link to a story on the Concorde disaster from my Webmaster, Bruce Lukaszewicz. He had highlighted a particular paragraph from a New York Time story. Here is that highlighted excerpt:

Contrast this with the folks in Keokuk who could not come up with a measly $21,000 ($7K x 3) to bury each of the dedicated men who served so valiantly, and made that ultimate sacrifice. What my Webmaster did not know when he sent me this link was that I was in possession of a little story sent to me by one of you fine folks out there that I love so dearly -- my readers. The source of this story is listed as KZEG (The Eagle)-KCLN News, providing local news of the Clinton, Iowa area from THE EAGLE-KCLN radio since June of 1995.

(Keokuk-AP) -- The Keokuk City Council has rejected a couple's proposal for a memorial park on the site where their three grandchildren and three firefighters died in an apartment fire last year. Howard and Pat Bowden bought the property with a playground in mind. The council voted it down, citing insurance and maintenance concerns.

Once again the fine and dedicated citizens of the city council have said bah humbug to a fine idea. What is so wrong with having a quiet, respectable sanctuary to remember the lives of three brave men and the three young citizens they died seeking to save?

I have to ask these political troops a simple question. Are there monuments in your community to the dead of the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam? If so, I would suggest that you already have a maintenance and insurance budget. Oh, it must be very expensive in Iowa to insure a plot of land and provide someone to trim the grass and clip the shrubs.

What is wrong with you folks? I guess you just can’t fathom the concept espoused by Abraham Lincoln when he spoke of these "… honored dead …" during the Gettysburg Address. Look to the example of the folks at Air France. They could have hidden behind a barricade of barristers. That they did not speaks volumes regarding that corporation.

And since I am in the mood to do a bit of smacking at this time, I want to single out the Mayor of Howell Township, New Jersey. Back at our fire company banquet in March, my Webmaster Bruce and I approached him regarding the creation of an ordinance to cover the funeral costs for any firefighter, EMS member or police officer that (heaven forbid) may die in the line of duty.

He expressed a great deal of support to us, and with that in mind I drafted the language for such a proposal and sent it to him within three to four days. Bruce and I heard NOTHING back from him.

Coincidentally, Bruce bumped into the mayor at the Memorial Day ceremonies in Farmingdale, New Jersey. When Bruce asked him the status of our proposal, he pulled one of those table cloth out from under the flower vase tricks on us. Oh, we don’t have the money in the budget for that this year, so we are holding it until we do.

Bruce’s comeback was a masterful bit of language. "So I guess you are telling me that our firefighters, EMS members, and police officers should be extremely careful for the remainder of 2000, and try not to die this year!" With that, the Mayor grabbed his daughter’s hand and marched off. Still haven’t heard from him.

Once again the political world has been proven to be as good as their word, which is to say phony. Don’t pee on my leg and tell me that it is raining. I have already spent 25 years drying off my pants in Newark.

So I guess that Howell Township, New Jersey and Keokuk, Iowa have a lot more in common than I would ever have dared to guess. Both are headed by uncaring people who play upon the sincerity of their emergency service people, while providing us with the equivalent of the Jersey Bird, made famous by the late Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller.

Folks, it is fairly simple to an old retired fire chief like me. Wake up politicians of America! You are either with us or you are against us. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Look to the lesson of Air France on how to do the right thing. They did not hesitate for one instant to do the right thing. We deserve at least that much for our dedication to the core values of our country.

The fire service is the critical linchpin in the infrastructure of the United States. Ignore us at your own peril.