There’s a popular bumper sticker up around these parts that goes something like “If you ate today, thank a farmer.” Or another one that reads: “If you can read this bumper sticker, thank a teacher.”
Both are important sentiments and each are points I’m also completely on board with.
However, it might also be nice to see another one cruising around, something like: “If a grass fire didn’t consume your house and barn, thank a volunteer firefighter” or even “If you managed to get your 300-pound Aunt Bessie on the gurney and into the ambulance… thank a volunteer firefighter.”
These guys do it all. Small town communities like ours, quite frankly, would not exist without these people.
While I know some of them manage to receive some meager stipend for their time on duty, it is a pittance when one considers what they do and what they are very often faced with. Not unlike police officers and paramedics, when a volunteer firefighter’s pager goes off, it’s seldom good news.
I’ve been sitting next to them in church or a local sporting event and I’ve never heard anything remotely positive come over that device. Just once I’d like to hear that contraption squawk and a crackly voice say: “Bruce Pierce, there’s a steak dinner waiting for you at the house. Over!” Or even something like, “Dylan Lantz, a charter bus full of Brazilian supermodels has a flat tire and needs your assistance.”
But that call never comes, instead it’s one tragedy after the next. We never call them unless we’re in trouble, and we seldom think about them when we’re not, but thank heaven they’re around.
I have to admit there’s a huge part of me that would love to be a volunteer firefighter, but for all the wrong reasons. I just think it would be cool to wear all that neat stuff and ride around in those trucks. All the same, I fear that (as a newspaper guy) my instincts would be terribly misplaced.
While the real firemen are rushing into the breach to save lives, I’d be snapping away with my camera: “Excuse me sir, I know you’ve just been in a car accident and you’ve probably got some internal hemorrhaging going on, but could you smile for me real quick? This one’s going on the front page!”
So, yeah… some of us are made to put out the real fires and some of us are made to make a big deal about them and scare people for advertising revenue.
Thanks for all of the card games and dinners and birthday parties you’ve had to bail on because your pager went off and you heeded the call.
Thanks for getting up and out of bed at those times when all the rest of us were still snugly and obliviously snoozing.
Thanks for all the time put into training and re-training, the hours you spend away from loved ones and all the hours “off-the-clock.”
Thanks for being the thin red line between us and tragedy, for being the first ones into danger and the last ones to leave.
Please don’t take it personally, but I hope I don’t see you anytime soon.