This post was originally published Sept. 11, 2009 on a blog that I have since given up on. Aside from the date at the bottom, it has not been changed.
I remember being jolted from a sound sleep as the piercing alarm boomed through the house. Seconds later I hear frantic footsteps running from the other side of the house and down the stairs. The door opens and slams shut. In the distance a car starts and the engine roars as it zooms off. It’s quiet. The entire event took two minutes.
It was my father answering a call that came over his Holbrook Fire Department pager. It happened often, but it wasn’t always in the middle of the night. Sometimes it was during dinner or while we were watching T.V. Sometimes it was on the weekend. Every Friday for as long as I can remember my father left after dinner to spend a few hours at the fire house. It was his “on call” night. He’d return around 12am.
I never knew what time it was when he would run out of the house in the middle of the night. I would rarely wake up to hear him return. I just know that when his alarm clock went off he would climb out of bed and get ready for work, like it never happened.
He rarely spoke about his life as a firefighter/EMT. Had he not taken us to the department to climb all over the fire trucks, attended the annual children’s Christmas party or parked the First Responder car in our driveway, I don’t think any of us would have realize he was even a member of the volunteer force until we were older.
Even now, as he remains active in the department, I still know very little about what he’s done or what he’s seen.
I know he’s delivered two babies because of two storks, pink and blue, that he has pinned to his fire department jacket. Somewhere in Holbrook there is a boy named Vincent. I wonder if he knows it’s in honor of my father.
My friend Veronica told me that her mother is convinced that it was my dad who helped her escape from her car after she was involved in a massive accident.
I know he headed east when a fire blazed through the Pine Barrens so violently it crossed Sunrise Highway.
I know he has been at the scene of many fires, as the distinct smell of smoke would linger in my house after he hung his jacket over a chair in the dining room.
The every day heroics of men and women like my father have been in the forefront of my mind my entire life, but it took the tragic events of September 11, 2001 for these actions to be honored and acknowledged by people around the country.
Thousands of first responders, firefighters and police officers alike, ran toward the blazing towers as civilians ran away. Many of these first responders make a fraction of what the average Manhattan employee takes home and even more of these first responders do it on a voluntary basis, with their own payment being a slight discount on their property taxes. Those who become a police officer, fire fighter or emergency medical technician don’t do this to become wealthy.
These men and women do this because they have a genuine desire to help their fellow man, their neighbors, in time of need. They are the faces you see when you take a turn too fast and hit a tree. They are the faces you see as your home is ignited by a candle left by a bedside.
They are the faces you saw risking their lives to save those of complete strangers when the towers fell that day.
And every day, they are taken for granted.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are bad apples in every bunch. The fire fighters that drink too much before responding to a call or the police officer that ignores the pleas for help from a battered woman. But, these horrible people are the exception to the rule.
So today on September 11, 2010 as you honor the memories of the innocent lives lost, please honor the men and woman who are the every day heroes on this Earth.