Each of us joined the emergency services for our own reasons. I was just made aware of one of the best explanations for wanting to join that I ever heard. I recently attended a dinner cruise celebrating the 100th anniversary of a local fire department. This dinner cruise was held on a boat that included a tour of lower Manhattan. As the sun was heading toward the western horizon, its rays illuminated the high-rise buildings of lower Manhattan. Everyone was very quiet as they passed the World Trade Center site. Next to me on the guardrail was a young man who had joined the fire department a couple of years ago. He showed me where he was working on September 11, 2001, which was virtually a block or two away from the site. On that day as a civilian, he left his building, shocked by the indescribable mayhem that he observed. The body parts, jumpers, and the eventual collapses were emotionally overwhelming. He joined tens of thousands of civilians heading north on foot. As he proceeded away from the horror of the twin towers, he observed numerous fire fighting units, police and EMS rigs responding south. He was struck by the tremendous contrast between the mass of humanity rushing away from the scene and then the constant flow of first responders proceeding toward the danger. He stated that he wished he had the training and the equipment to help. He wished he could be part of it rather than heading for home and safety.
The thought stayed with him in the coming hours, days, weeks, and months. He talked it over with his wife, who was supportive; and after a year or so of thinking about it, he stepped forward and submitted an application to his local volunteer fire department. He immediately immersed himself in the training and has become an active fire fighter. I spoke to one of the veteran leaders of his department and asked how this individual was doing. The response was, “He is a home run! He takes the training seriously. Furthermore, he is smart and a quick learner.”
Let’s face it; not everyone is cut out for this type of work. Many people join for the wrong reasons and eventually drop out. It is not for them. But, for those few precious individuals that join for the right reasons and have the fortitude to rush into dangerous situations using training and intelligence, they save the day – again and again.
In the months after September 11, 2001, I met hundreds of FDNY members at funerals and memorial services. Overall, I was really impressed by the quality of the fire fighters that I met. They appear comfortable being in each other’s company. As a group, they tend to be upbeat, intelligent, energetic, irreverent at times, and generally nice people.
This is probably a good general description of fire fighters all over the world. They are part of America’s last “warrior class” (from the speeches of Sheriff James Kralik). My new fire fighter friend, who joined for the right reasons, seems accepted and comfortable in his new role. When there is a serious problem, it is reassuring to know that this group of Americans will be rushing toward the danger, not away.