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The Idle American
"High Above It All..."
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 • Posted February 14, 2014

Inside on TV news, talking heads described ravages of California wildfires raging across the landscape. Outside, my neighbor Josh was ready to climb into his pick-up, heading for his firefighting shift 40 minutes up the freeway.

Fresh from hearing descriptions of modern firefighting technology, I asked him to explain so ordinary guys like me could understand.

“Doc, you’d do well to keep it simple,” Josh answered, smiling. “Firefighters just spray the wet stuff on the red stuff.”…

    *****

As he drove away, I gave myself a mental kick for missing the opportunity to thank him for his ongoing commitment to saving lives and property. Each shift, he’s ready to uphold the pledge he made when signing on.

And the same goes for other emergency responders--men and women, professionals and volunteers--across the land.

They deserve to be on pedestals, none of which are tall enough, broad enough or sturdy enough to hold them all. Maybe they could mount the elevated plateaus in shifts….

    *****

He’s a humanitarian and a great neighbor, eager to help with chores that call for more strength and endurance than we of a certain age can muster. His smile, gentle nature and acts of kindness make us know that he’s a “giver,” not a taker.

I asked him about life at the station. Are firefighters really good cooks? Are jokes shared around the station? Does it seem like family? He answered “yes” to all three.

Josh joked that he knows of no other job where they “wake you up to go home.” He asked if I know why God made firefighters: “Because the police need heroes, too.” (Law enforcement personnel may remember that this question can be re-phrased with the names reversed.)…

    *****

Another firefighter--a “friend of a friend” we’ll call Dan--continues his “sunny side up” approach to life, despite having lost a leg in a freak accident at the station a dozen years ago.

He remains an incurable optimist and continues on the job with a strong commitment to exercise. Within months of his accident, he put his prosthesis to the test, entering and completing the Turkey Trot and the Jingle Bell events in Dallas, both 5K races.

Regularly mounting his bicycle in Van Alstyne, his hometown, he often takes 25-mile rides.

Sometimes a pack of three or four dogs gives chase. One day, a large three-legged boxer set the canine pace, getting way too close to Dan on his “real leg” side. He gave the dog a “can-we-talk look” as he pedaled faster….

    *****

Some unlikely conversations occur while the embers are still glowing.

A Dallas homeowner whose domicile was saved by the Dallas Fire Department during the wee hours of a cold winter morning was asked his insurance agent’s name. “Swift Sparks,” he responded.

Smiling, the captain said, “We have enough attempts at humor down at the firehouse. Now give me his real name. (He repeated, “Swift Sparks.”)…

    *****

More than six decades ago, an ultra-conservative newspaper ran an editorial that was critical of public fire protection. The editor was strongly opposed it, feeling that such protection should be offered only to individuals and businesses signing up for it and “paying the freight” if they wanted fire protection.

A few days later, flames engulfed the newspaper offices. Thanks to the fire department, much of the building was salvaged.

In the next edition of the paper, the editor profusely thanked the firefighters in a front-page letter. The final sentence, however, read thusly: “However, we still don’t believe in public fire protection.”…

    *****

The masses endorse public fire protection. Aren’t we glad that firefighters, and other emergency responders, feel strong commitment to what they are called to do? They prove regularly that they’re “all in” to go “all out” when duty calls.

Sure, during quiet hours, when all is in order and alarms are silent, they share stories, laughing when they can and crying when they must.

When Josh reads this, I’ll be pleased for him to render his opinion, unless he wants me to tone it down a little bit. But I won’t. And when he finishes reading, I hope he’ll take a few minutes to take a look at our squeaking garage door….

    *****

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury.

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