Archive for Thursday, July 7, 2005

Unsung heroes deserve praise

Hats off to our local firefighters

July 7, 2005

Since the unfortunate events of Sept.11, 2001, the professions of firefighters have taken an unprecedented spotlight.

This is very evident even on television shows where a firefighter gets special recognition, especially if they are from New York. They have assumed an almost celebrity-like status. Not that there is anything wrong with that -- especially because of the bravery they displayed and the lives they saved on that day.

Last weekend I got to be up close with some of the local firefighters during the safety fair that was put on by the Eudora Township Fire Department.

Inside the fire station, were several booths that provided safety information for children and adults. There was also a smoke maze that was a hit among the children. One of the firefighters told me that apart from the fun, it was also intended to simulate how to move around when caught inside a smoke-filled building.

As I toured the area and visited the many vehicles on display, I was amazed at the different organizations that work in unison to provide for the safety of the people in Eudora.

The Douglas Country Mobile Command, The Eudora EMS, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical and LifeStar all provide the necessary support during an emergency response. The firefighters also answered the many questions fielded. Some even put on their full firefighting gear in 90-degree heat. The gear weighs 75 pounds.

I was very surprised to learn that Eudora has two different fire department units. Mike Underwood, the deputy fire chief for the city unit, explained to me the primary difference between the two units and how one served the city and the other served rural areas. I was most surprised by the fact that volunteers staff both units.

These are people who have regular jobs but will get up in the middle of the night to respond to a call and be back the next morning at their regular jobs. These are people you probably see in your everyday activities, but don't know of their firefighting exploits.

Underwood also happens to be a police officer and a baseball coach in the Eudora Amateur Baseball Association.

Barry Larson and a staff of 22 volunteers serve the township fire unit. Larson explained in detail how the "relay" and the "dump truck" works when attending a fire out in the country, because there they don't have access to fire hydrants.

Even though there are two units, it's not uncommon for each of them to serve together to protect the community.

Despite being volunteers, they have the training equivalent to that of paid firefighters in a big city.

The most amazing thing I learned was that these men and women get paid. Yes, they get paid. A mere $15 per call for the city firefighters and $10 for those in the township.

Their efforts are surely worth more than that, but obviously, they don't do this for the money.

As I thought about the glamour and attention the firefighters have been receiving since the 9-11 incident, I realized it was not the case here.

Although these men and women perform the same function -- albeit on a smaller scale -- they are neither recognized at public events nor do they go on television talk shows or paid motivational speaking circuits.

They are not applauded when they walk into C&S Market or a sporting event. Mostly, you would only know them as your neighbor or the parent of one of your child's friends.

As I talked to Underwood and Larson, it was very clear to me that it did not matter to them that they don't get the celebrity-like attention. They do this because of their passion to give back to the community they live in.

They may not have as many high rises to protect or succumb to a terrorist attack, but they still put their lives on the line every time they respond to a call.

They blend into our society as normal citizens, but like fictional superheroes who don a cape or costume when duty calls, these men don their uniforms to serve the community where they live in an unassuming manner.

Next time you see one of these special men or women at a baseball game or in the grocery store, you don't have to applaud them, just walk up and say hi and give a word of thanks. They are not looking for recognition, but they will never turn down a kind gesture.

My hat's off to these exemplary citizens of Eudora.

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