Service Above Self

 In my nine years as a firefighter, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness some pretty incredible events. One of the events  that moved to the top of the list was attending the Firefighter’s Memorial Mass in Worcester, MA over the weekend. During the mass, I was reminded once again of what an amazing brotherhood the fire service has.

It was there, at the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral, that my attendance was a for surprise for two of my dearest friends, Jack and Jim Peltier. The two were to receive the St. Florian Award from Bishop Robert McManus of the Worcester Catholic Diocese.
As I sat in the pew next to Southborough Fire Chief John Mauro, I desperately tried to hold back the tears, as I realized the enormity of what I was witnessing. Soaking up every word, I sat quietly on the edge of my seat listening intently. “Service above self” were words spoken during the homily and my purpose for being at this special occasion was solidified as I once again realized the magnitude of that powerful statement. I thought to myself that Jack and Jim were perfect examples of that statement, as they have time and time again unselfishly helped others above themselves, never once seeking a thank you or looking for recognition.
It seems like yesterday when I met Jim and Jack at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, almost four years ago. The three of us were at NFA reviewing fire grants and our paths crossed in a local gathering place on campus. As a volunteer firefighter from a rural area, I was fascinated listening to Jack and Jim’s suppression-related stories. At that time, it was hard imagining anyone having to worry about elevator shafts in homes. Since visiting their area a few times, I can see why that would be a concern. I visited with them each evening, soaking up all of their stories and learning about a world that was totally different from mine.
During that particular visit to the academy, I shared with them the plight of my fire department. One engine stopped pumping during an incident and had to be towed from the scene and another pumper had electrical issues. Needless to say, our aging fleet was unsafe for our firefighters and did not enable the department to protect our community and the citizens that we served. We simply could not afford to replace either of these aging, unsafe and unreliable pumpers.
Little did I know, that upon their return home, Jim and Jack organized an effort to acquire a reliable fire engine and the all of the equipment needed to give to our department. Yes, you heard that right. Give to our department. Jack and Jim contacted several fire truck dealers and convinced one to contribute an engine which they had recently acquired in trade. Upon receipt of the truck, Jim, Jack and others whom they organized, worked on the truck to ensure it was in sound mechanical order. They continued to acquire donations of equipment such as hose, tools, and other basic firefighting equipment for the truck. A “new”, fully-equipped engine was transported to Johnson County RFD #1, where the “Bay State Express” is still in use today.
In what seemed like the hottest summer ever, Jim and Jack also organized two training days in Arkansas for our department. The two brought along three of their friends and the firefighters in our department received some top notch training. Everyone worked hand in hand to learn new skills and for that, our department is forever grateful.
Since that time, Jack and Jim have helped Sparkles and my fire safety efforts in numerous ways. Last summer, in our biggest project to date, Sparkles and I spent three weeks in Southborough working on our next children’s fire safety book, Sparkles Goes to Boston. Jim helped organize the project on his end, and each of us look forward to the books release someday.
A few years have since passed and I have witnessed these two men helping not only our department, but other departments as well. It has been overwhelming to see the impact that these two firefighters have made.
Thank you Jack and Jim, for all that you have done, and for those lives that you have forever touched. You truly exhibit the true meaning of the word “Firefighter.” I will be forever grateful for your unselfishness in helping keep everyone fire safe.
*Jack was unable to attend the service due to his health. Get well soon, Jack.