As I begin this column, it is exactly one week to the hour since those creatures crawled out of their cesspool and hijacked four planes, sending thousands of innocent people to their deaths, including hundreds in the fire and other emergency services. The earliest many of you will read this column...
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I watch TV footage in the ensuing days of the rescue and I begin to discover all those important issues in the fire service are no longer important. I see union firefighters working beside volunteer firefighters. I see medics from the private ambulance companies working alongside government municipal services. I would later learn many private medics also lost their lives along with two FDNY paramedics, and I again find tears streaming down my face.
Those who responded to the scene were just like you and me. When called upon, they responded and did their job without hesitation. Unfortunately, they were on the wrong shift or assigned to the wrong engine house on this particular day.
The fire service is a tightly knit community. The members of Rescue Squad 1 in St. Louis last year made a little friendly wager of fire department T-shirts with the members of Rescue 1 from the FDNY over who would win the baseball playoff games between the Mets and the Cardinals last year. Unfortunately, all the members of Rescue Company 1 who made the wager are missing.
There are many other occasions when I find a lump in my throat or tears flowing from my eyes - when I see the picture of the firefighters raising the flag on a demolished flagpole from the World Trade Center, when I see the firefighters ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, when I see baseball and football teams wearing FDNY hats, when I see firefighter honor guards presenting American flags at a sporting event as "God Bless America" is played, when I see images from the funerals of firefighters. I see the despair in the eyes of Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen as he stands behind Mayor Giuliani at press conferences, knowing he has lost 343 firefighters and EMS personnel.
I look over the list of those missing from the FDNY to see if I recognize any names and unfortunately there are some. I also see two names that are the same and one has a Jr. behind it. My fears are realized later when I find out a father and son have died and/or missing in the World Trade Center and the other son, also a member of the FDNY, is searching for them in the rubble. Again, tears fill my eyes as I think of the loss that this family has suffered.
The fire service will rise again. But we will never stop mourning those we lost, and remembering the contribution they made to the community and to the fire service. When you think of them and their unselfish sacrifice, it's OK to cry.
Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the managing director of The Ludwig Group, LLC, a professional consulting firm specializing in fire and EMS issues. He retired as the chief paramedic of the St. Louis Fire Department after serving the City of St. Louis for 24 years. Ludwig has trained and lectured internationally and nationally on fire-based EMS topics. He can be reached at 314-752-1240 or via www.garyludwig.com.