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we could be heroes

[All photos are AP photos from CNN. Click for bigger images]

Yesterday, Steven Rucker died in the line of duty while fighting the disastrous fires in California.

From the time I was old enough to comprehend what my father did for a living, I worshiped firemen. Once a year, my dad would come to my classroom -in full gear - and talk about fire prevention and safety. My classmates were in awe of him. A real fireman! In our classroom! Back then, every boy wanted to be a fireman or a cop when they grew up. It seemed exciting and daring and heroic.

When you're a third grade kid with a bad case of hero worship, you don't see beyond the hero himself. A little boy will just see a man in a big yellow jacket and helmet riding on the back of a fire truck, on his way to save the day, or that same fireman running out the door of a burning house, saved infant in his arms. Everyone cheers.

It's not until you are older that you realize what happens in the middle of that story. For me, that moment of realization came when I was about eight. maybe nine years old, in the car with my father. He was, at that time, a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, in addtion to his paid position in the city. One evening, a huge grocery store went up in flames. My mother and the rest of the firemen's wives had the duty of bringing coffee and other drinks to the firemen. Hey, it was the 70's. Women did that sort of thing without question.

So mom packed us up into the car and we went to watch the Big Apple grocery store burn down. I thought it would be fun and exciting. Instead, it was terrifying. I watched the roof collapse. I watched the building crumble underneath the flames. I watched as firemen kept going in, towards the flames instead of away from them. What kind of idiot goes into a burning building? A brave one, I suppose.

Shortly after that, a volunteer fireman from my father's company died in the line of duty. My father's chosen profession suddenly took on a different tone for me. I never thought about the death part. I never even considered the fact that one day he might not come home from work. I went to bed that night angry. How could my father be so selfish that he would risk his life to save strangers and their property when he had kids and a wife at home who needed him? A small voice in my head replied: That's not selfish. It's selfless.

Firefighters were all the rage after 9/11. They were the new heroes. Forget baseball players and rock stars; people wore pictures of firemen on their t-shirts instead. Everyone had an NYFD hat.

Time goes on. Other heroes come and go. People don't forget, but they don't feel that pride for firemen with the same intensity they felt following 9/11. That's ok, those brave men and women don't do this for the glory, anyhow. Most of the time there is no glory.

Have you looked at the pictures from the California fires? Have you seen the videos on televions? Do you understand what hell looks like? Now, imagine someone walking towards that. Going towards that inferno to save the trees, save your house, save whatever they can. Just like that fall day in New York City two years ago; people evacuate, the firemen move in and do their job, without question, without hesitation. Fear? Of course. Who wouldn't be afraid of that wall of fire? But they go forward because it is their duty.

People do not become firefighters for the money. They don't do it on a whim, or to get the chicks. It takes a special kind of person to choose to do this for a living, or to choose to volunteer their time in the local firehouses.

Steven Rucker was one of those people. Remember him as you watch those flames on the news. Remember every fireman who has gone towards the flames instead of away from them.

There is no one person, no group of people, who could ever replace the fireman as my personal hero.

When you are done here, go read Chuck. He knows a thing or two about how hard firefighting is.


Please note (I have been through this before, which is why I feel the need to say this) that I am not placing a higher value on the life of Steven Rucker than that of the others who have died during these fires. I am sorry for all the loss of life, all the property losses, for the tragedy of the whole thing. My heart is with everyone in the line of the fires.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference we could be heroes:

» We could be heroes from Inoperable Terran
Michele has a great piece on firemen.... [Read More]

» Let Us Now Praise Firemen from Sheila Astray's Redheaded Ramblings
A post from Michele, honoring firemen everywhere. Her father was a fireman. She eloquently describes her "moment of realization" as a child: [My father] was, at that time, a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, in addtion to his paid position... [Read More]


>Hey, it was the 70's. Women did that sort of >thing without question.

Should they question it now? Was something wrong that they did it then?
They were contributing as they could and perhaps they felt better that they could see their husbands safe all that much sooner?
Do wifes still do this kind of thing?

Actually, they do, Star. It's called the Ladies Auxilliary and most volunteer fire departments have them. They do fund raising as well. I think they do it with less of that "I'm here to support the men" thing, though. They are more of a community service organization now.

Outstanding, Michele... thank you.

It's even more saddening when I think that, if these fires are a result of arson, Firefighter Rucker and the others were murdered.

Michele - I was a volunteer in Hicksville for over a year until one night, driving my girlfriend home on Jerusalem Ave, there was a car accident and the gas tank exploded. I stopped to help get the woman out but the impact jarred the doors closed. There was nothing I could do. I watched her burn to death. That was my last night as a volunteer.

There is something deep down inside of those that serve in the fire departments [and police and EMS] that help them, make them, serve others. They are a special breed...

My little brother is with the Chino FD, very close to the first fire in Fontana/Rancho Cucamonga. He's been on the lines for a week now. The eastern portion of that particular (now merged with another) fire is now less than 20 miles from his own house.

I try not to think about it too much.

you're so right michele
so right
the one good thing
maybe the only good thing that came out of '911" was the respect
adoration and new-found caring for firemen
uniformed officers and real
every day
hard working guys and gals like construction workers
iron workers
they were the heroes of 911
and the folks getting saved
were the suits
it was a real switch
now yeah
thats all died down
the firemen
can go back to their normal routine of saving lives
and property
but i wont forget
a lot of us wont forget
a lesson that you have known all along
they are the real heroes
not in it for the money
not for the glory
just for some internal need to save lives
to help
to be honorable

I think that makes a lot of sense. They are really partners, doing a less dangerous job to be sure, but contributing to the effort that enables the Firemen to operate and concentrate on the job only they can do.

Thank you for such a moving tribute to firefighters and all rescue workers.

Steve was a firefighter here in Novato. He and his top notch crewmates are a big influence on a lot of kids here in town. My youngest son was part of the Novato Fire Squirts program, and yesterday evening we talked about what can really happen in the line of duty. He said he still wants to be a fire fighter even though its dangerous and 'a little bit scary'.

Then he said: 'I would try to be brave like Steve'.

Thanks NFD

We get fire news 24/7 on the various local tv channels - and just seeing what these guys (meaning both men and women of course) are walking into is...well, everyone here just thinks they're fantastic and are talking about them with awe. As well they should. Many of them haven't had much sleep or food since Sunday and have stayed on the lines since then - so local stores/companies are sending food out to them on the fire lines/camps. Some of these firefighters are from out of state who've come in to help. Some are from far north - who say they're glad to come in and help as firefighters from our area have gone to help them before.

Some of the media reported that 3 firefighters had died yesterday - and the firechief was calm but clear in the press conference last night that he considered that irresponsible and...well, you could tell he was angry. All of them are really shaken to have one of them die - it's just gotten that dangerous in the areas they're working in now.

The fire that they're working is the same one that passed us by in Scripps Ranch - I think. There's more than one fire burning and it's hard to keep them all straight.

This should be an op-ed in every paper in the country.

I was downtown on September 11, and after seeing all those fire trucks rushing at full speed down the avenues, many of them never to return . . . I still get chills when I see fire trucks go by in Manhattan. Of course, I come from a family of cops and firefighters myself. Great post, Michele.

That's really touching. My dad is a firefighter in Littleton Colorado and he has a crew member who just died and i dont know how he deals with it. i know i couldn't handle it if he died in the line of duty. your one tough person great aricle.
Thanks Nick and the LFD

he was a brave sole, i know because i knew him

he was such a good man and he died for a good cause

he was a good man

Thank you for your thoughts about Steve. I know he and other crews in Southern California fought bravely. He is a major, major loss for our family. It will take us many years to heal. Steve was my big brother (through marriage) and he instilled in me a great want to continue on and help our family.

Thanks, Brent