THE FACT OF THE MATTER
Striking firefighters in left their picket line last week to come to the aid of a young woman who had a suspected heart attack. Despite being ‘off the run’, the firefighters immediately responded to the call.
Firefighters around the country are involved in a drawn-out strike action where 50% of fire stations are withdrawing their service on a rotating basis in a dispute over pay and conditions. In Kilkenny and Carlow, this means that means that certain town and villages are ‘off the run’ for calls every second day and the opposite for every other town or village.
The part-time firefighters in coming to that woman’s aid did the right thing. Instinctively. That goes without me having to say it. But I say it, and I’ll say it again. They did the right thing. Instinctively.
Those on the frontline looking after us – our local firefighters, our paramedics, our nurses, our carers – do so, day in and day out, tirelessly and selflessly because that is what they do. Instinctively. They are made of better stuff than you or me. They are heroes. And for too long, down the years, we have undervalued them, and underpaid them, and taken them for granted.
Rather, we should honour and reward the tremendous sacrifices made by those we increasingly have come to call our first responders. Everyday they work to make our communities stronger and safer, and look after us when ill and in time of need. They do so quietly, in the way they serve their community and the strength they show.
Being a hero isn’t about the uniform you wear or how strong you are; it’s about having a heart to serve people. Our firefighters and paramedics and nurses are special people with special qualities, not least empathy and understanding – and selflessness
Their work hours are often long and unpredictable. Firefighters can’t control when a fire starts; they just have to stop it. Every day, they put their safety on the line for the rest of us. They run into dangerous situations, so we don’t have to, sometimes risking their lives in the process.
Another quality that sets first responders apart is their commitment to people when off duty. Not only do they have the skill and selflessness to save somebody from a dangerous situation, but they also have the compassion to help them after the fact. There are plenty of first responders whose acts of kindness in their personal lives have had a significant impact on others.
I know this on a personal level but rather stay mute on the matter.
However, here’s another story. My cousin Mark Hopkins, a week older than me, recently visited from Los Angeles and he and his wife Heike stayed in an airbnb near me and we had a wonderful 10 days together. He retired as Captain of the LA Fire Department at 55 after more than 30 years as a full-time first responder.
One evening we were sitting on the patio, looking out towards the mountains, shooting the breeze over a couple of Jemmies. Our conversation covered a multitude of sins, including getting old and retirement, and on how life had been good or otherwise to us both.
“You must have seen a lot of heartache and devastation in your years as a fireman,” I suggested. “The death and devastation. The broken bodies.”
He took a sip from his glass and momentarily reflected, looking out to the mountains. “Indeed,” he said,” and I could never really talk about it to Heike or the kids growing up.
“But do you know there were so many lives, so many, that my unit and I, thankfully, saved down the years. That’s the good side of the job. That makes it all the worth while doing.”
He paused, took another sip of his whiskey, and was, again, momentarily lost in his thoughts. He composed himself, turned to me and said: “But you know it’s not the many you save down the years that stay with you but rather the ones you didn’t manage to save. There was a little boy once, just four-years-old. We managed to get his family out from the blaze safely. But he … he I could not reach. Could not save.
“That was many years ago. But there’s not a day goes by but I think of him…”
* At time of going to print the reserve fire servcies have called off their strike