The fires are raging in California, as they always do this time of year. The news leads with how many acres have burned, how many houses have been lost, and how many people have perished or been hurt. They finally speak of the firefighters who lost their lives in the battle.
For those who have not been around fires of this magnitude, they are akin to the burning of the oil fields in Kuwait, during the first Iraq war. The skies turn sickly shades of orange, gray, and black. The air hangs with ash and the smell of smoke is everywhere – even 30 miles away. A friend of mine in Colorado noted that even her skies are marred by the taint of these fires.
During the fires in the early 90’s, in the Oakland hills, I stood in a place that was miles from the fire and watched pieces of people’s lives, tattered and torched, drift onto cars and sidewalks. Sometimes, whole pages of books would drift down from the sky, like some kind of surreal rain storm. It is quiet. People hush in deference to the possibility of looming catastrophe.
During all of this, there are men and women who face gruelling days and nights at the edge of this madness. Every day, large fire or not, they risk their own lives to save not only our persons but the things which make up our lives. They make the tough decisions about who will lose their house and who will not, based on what their own physical limits can achieve and the resources they have. These decisions are instantaneous and far-reaching. They have the physical and emotional stress of seeing lives come and go right in front of them; sometimes they can have an affect. Sometimes not.
I was filled with a huge sense of gratitude for these real heroes. These are the people to whom we own not only gratitude but honor and compensation due the enormous risks they take. They face all kinds of dangers, every day, without knowing into what situation they may be thrown. This takes a certain willingness, dedication, and love of the human race that many people just don’t have. It also takes courage and a modicum of love of danger… most of us are not completely altruistic… Yet, the rewards are usually so few for these people.
I shake my head and wonder at our world; we compensate sports and movie personas withmillions and yet, these people who put their own time, limbs, strength, and lives into protecting us are not compensated even 1/100th of the same amounts. We tend to put value in the weirdest places instead of what’s really important. What does it mean when a firefighter loses his or her life for one of those million-dollar stars? Like teachers, police officers, and artists, firefighters are often the last compensated, the first cut, and the first ignored. Really? Is that what we really value? Something to think about.
Someone recently said that when these things happen here, all of California becomes one big fire department. It’s true. Not only do the firefighters band together but the rest of the state finally turns its eye to these important and vital people. We should learn to look in their direction often, whether we’ve called 911 or not.
Thank you, all of you on the fire lines, in the air, in the station houses, and on the road. I am grateful that you’re there.