Fallen heroes

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The deaths of 19 firefighters who made up an elite "Hotshot" front-line wildfire-fighting crew on Sunday in Arizona was tragic and sobering. Not since 9-11 have more firefighters died together on one day.

The tragedy reminds us of the life-threatening dangers firefighters, law enforcement officials and emergency responders face as they go about the business of protecting our communities. Over the years, as a newspaper reporter, I have witnessed first hand the heroics of these everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to protect us.

I've watched firefighters break down a door and enter a structure that has flames erupting from its roof. I've seen sheriff's deputies with guns drawn enter a home to arrest a felon and watched First Responders extricating victims from the twisted remnants of a vehicle involved in a serious traffic crash. In each situation, these men and women didn't hesitate to respond. Their training kicked in, and they went about the business of saving lives and protecting property.

These teams of police officers, firefighters, sheriff's deputies and ambulance crew members are not pursuing their careers for the money. Sadly, few are paid enough for the life-saving work they do. They risk their lives to protect ours, and they do that job for very little compensation. In Barry County, the vast majority of First Responders and firefighters are volunteers who receive only a small stipend for their willingness to be on call to assist their communities. The deputies, police officers, volunteer fire-fighters and First Responders I know are passionate about their jobs. They continue to put their lives on the line, because they are committed to protecting and serving others. It's what they do; it's what they love.

The firefighters who lost their lives in Arizona died doing what they do best -- battling wildfires and protecting communities from the encroaching flames. Their sacrificial service, and the work of all emergency personnel across the country, deserves to be honored and celebrated.

This July Fourth set some time aside to remember the fallen heroes -- the firefighters in Arizona and the men and women of the military who died protecting our freedoms. And as you go about your daily lives, don't take local law enforcement and emergency responders for granted. These brave individuals work long days and overnight hours to make sure you can sleep peacefully in your bed at night, never doubting that someone will be there to respond in your time of need.

Lisa Schlichtman