Tragedy made us appreciate first responders

Published 1:59 am Saturday, September 10, 2011

Like all disasters, Sept. 11 united us – at least for a time – and some good things came from the terrible terrorist attacks of that day.

One is an increased appreciation for first responders.

For practically my whole life, I have lived in a household where someone was dedicated to collecting news. Even as a child, I was often on the sidelines watching first responders fight fires, remove passengers from a wreck, or comfort victims. Perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a great big, strapping police officer, head down on his desk in the station, weeping because he wasn’t able to get to a little girl before she perished in a house fire. Many have forgotten that tragic event, but I’d be willing to bet it still haunts him.

I’ve watched law enforcement officers comfort and calm a mother who arrived at a terrible wreck scene because she’d heard her son had died there. I can still hear her shrieks, and I’ll bet the deputies and EMTs can, too.

I’ve heard my friend Grover Smith, sheriff of Escambia County, tell the story of knocking on a door late one night. The man who answered, also a political leader in that community, turned and ran screaming through his house. As soon as he saw Grover, he knew: His son had died in a wreck.

When we are among the fortunate ones who aren’t in need of first responders, it’s easy to forget how important they are to us, how hard they work for relatively little pay.

Sept. 11 changed that. In most of the iconic, horrific photographs of that day, there are firemen. Firemen carrying people from the twin infernos; fighting back toward the scene to help someone else. Within days, most of us were mourning for Father Michael, the Catholic priest who was a chaplain for the fire station nearest Ground Zero, as if we’d known him personally. Like so many others, he died trying to save someone else.

No, we’re not as united as we were that eerily quiet fall 10 years ago. But most of us are a bit more aware, and much more appreciative, of the emergency personnel who were first on the scene.

This anniversary should serve as a reminder that we owe these brave workers a debt of thanks.

Tell them so when you see them, or mention it to their spouses. No doubt, it’d mean a lot.