On Sept. 11, 2001, 341 firefighters, 60 police officers and 10 paramedics were killed responding to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.
After that awful day, firefighters and other first responders acquired a new level of respect throughout the country. People applauded as their trucks drove by. Americans thanked them ever opportunity they had. We placed firefighters and police on the same plane of respect reserved for soldiers.
Traditionally, they’ve always been revered professions but 9/11 was a stark reminder of the sacrifice these men and women choose to make.
But something happened along the way. When the financial collapse and Great Recession hit and people were looking to blame someone, police and fire unions took a big hit. Public employee pensions became the scapegoats across the country. During the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP nominee Mitt Romney famously implied we didn’t need to hire more police officers and firefighters saying, “. . . it’s time for us to cut back on government.”
In a recent episode of CNN’s “Inside Man,” host Morgan Spurlock interviewed members of the Stockton Fire Department after Stockton’s petition for bankruptcy. The firefighters said many residents blame them for the city’s financial woes and people flip off the fire trucks as they go by and some throw rocks, eggs and bottles.
Where’d that love and respect go?
On Tuesday, when a harrowing seven-alarm blaze destroyed five homes and damaged several others on Marigold Drive, more than 200 firefighters from multiple agencies including Fairfield, Vacaville and neighboring counties responded. Their cool professionalism saved lives and property after many homes and apartments were evacuated.
We saw the same response and dedication two years ago when thousands of polypropylene bins burned in a massive six-alarm fire at Macro Plastics on Huntington Drive. And of course there’s the 4,000 firefighters battling the monstrous Rim Fire that’s been raging for the past 13 days in Tuolumne County.
While our hearts go out to the families who tragically lost their homes Tuesday, without the swift action of fire and police, it could have been a lot worse.
There’s no question that high salaries and out-of-control pensions are legitimate topics for communities to debate and reign in where appropriate. Vallejo is a city that had to eliminate positions and slash pensions after they filed bankruptcy. Many communities have to revisit compensation packages for public safety personnel as a matter of fiscal reality.
But no community should ever get to the point where they’re throwing rocks at firefighters. We need to get back to that respect and admiration that we all felt after 9/11 for first responders. We’re talking about people who put their lives on the line to save lives, to save our pets, our homes and treasured possessions. Local resident Darrell Prill was especially thankful when firefighters battling his burning home saved his prized military memorabilia.
That’s what they do.
These brave individuals should never become subjects of scorn. Thank you, first responders. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.