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Think about that story and the impact of one person getting involved, of having a simple conversation and showing even the slightest bit of concern, and the difference it made in the life of that young boy. Has anyone done that for you? I am willing to bet three-quarters of the firefighters in uniform today are doing this job because at some time a firefighter made an impression and/or was a role model.
Will your community be the next to suffer a violent tragedy such as what occurred in Newtown? Who will be the perpetrator? Is he walking by the closed bay doors of your station right now? Was she standing in the park at the local picnic and watching from a distance as you and you crew sat on the bumper of your apparatus? Will they be at your next community event? Will anyone or anything influence the possible future tragic decisions they will make? Are they desperately looking for a simple act of compassion, understanding or to be noticed? Who better to offer that reassurance than the most respected, revered, honored, trusted, heroic people in their community – firefighters?
We have no way for sure to know these things; just as we have no way of knowing whether any level of involvement would have derailed the tragic events in Connecticut. But we don’t know and that’s why we have to try! That’s why we need to be involved in our community at every level, and when we are out in our uniforms at an official event or simply stopping at the grocery store to buy dinner ingredients, why we need to make the most of it. We need to get involved with our community action groups; if there is none, consider starting one, not just to address violence, but any problem plaguing our community.
As firefighters, we have much to offer and we have the willing attention of a community that trusts us unconditionally. This is an honor bestowed on us that we can never take lightly or for granted. It’s an honor we must earn every day. That badge is not simply a professional designation or the symbol of the government we serve. It is a shield that reflects the glimmer of protection, hope and a people who care unconditionally and without reservation about race, economic status, gender, personal preferences, social standing or popularity. It represents people who will answer when called and help anyone in need – always and without question or personal agenda.
No, we can’t prevent every fire, every accident or every act of deliberate tragedy; but paying any attention to the odds or turning away from insurmountable threats and challenges has never been why we put on our badge or our way of life. It’s time to stop feeling helpless and do what we are all programmed to do – to take action and protect and save. It can be as simple as one person, one simple conversation, one wave hello or one smile. It is as simple as using that badge and trust and getting involved.
Firefighters. once again our communities are in fear, and they are looking for answers and are in need of heroes; and once again, they desperately need to see us stand up, grab their torch of fear and say “We got this.”
Burton Fire District
The writer, a 20-year veteran of the emergency services, is an engineer/paramedic and community support officer for the Burton, SC, Fire District and a paramedic with Beaufort County EMS. He served as a U.S. Marine during Desert Shield/Storm and presently is a member of the Georgia Air National Guard Fire Protection Division as an assistant fire chief of training. Currently, Byrne is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. A version of this commentary appeared on Firehouse.com.