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“The Higher Call of Duty”

By Joseph E Rathjen
July 1st, 2013

When I heard the news last night about the 19 firefighters who died fighting that fast-moving and deadly wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona, I immediately thought of the 340 firefighters who had died bravely on 9/11. My first reaction was, “More heroes die!”

And they are HEROES…aren’t they?

Some people say, “Well, they get paid for it.” I get angry when I hear that.

Let us not forget that some do and some do not. So does the fact that they are paid or not paid make them any less of a hero when they die, or stay alive?  I am sure there were plenty of firefighters on those hills last night that were not being paid, maybe some were, but what difference does it make? They are all dead, and they are all heroes.

Last night I recalled back to about 7 years ago when my home went on fire, a fast-moving, ruthless house fire that struck unexpectedly at midnight, and destroyed everything we owned and took the life of our family pet. We were all lucky to get out alive, but she was not so lucky.

I remember after the fire was put out, how two of the firefighters came outside and walked over to me and pulled me aside. They both had a look of gloom on their faces. I got worried, even though I knew we had all got out alive (my wife, our 3 children and I). So why did they have the look of gloom on their faces?

One of the firefighters leaned over and said to me, “I have bad news for you, sir. We found your cat.” That was all he had to say, nothing more. “Would you like us to bury it?” I nodded my head in agreement. What more could I say…as I looked over at my daughter, whose cat it was that died.

I didn’t say anything to anyone (even her) but I watched as those two fireman went back into the house and then came back out, moments later, holding a small object in their hands wrapped over in a wet towel. I watched as they walked into the back of the house and into the woods. Two other firefighters saw this and then followed them. They appeared to be doing it…almost instinctively.

I watched as the four of them knelt on the ground and started to dig a hole with their gloves and an axe. They put her in, covered up the hole then took a stick off a branch and made a small cross to serve as her grave marker. They then just stood there for a few moments staring down at the small grave, took off their helmets and paid a silent homage to her. Moments later, we all turned around and walked back to the house. No one said a word.

It was not until that moment that I realized what a special breed all firefighters really are. You would think that they would have just thrown her in a bag and handed her to us, but no, they had a higher call of duty to attend to.

The 19 firefighters who died last night in Yarnell, Arizona, had a “Higher Call of Duty”. They were a special breed of firefighters who known as “Hotshots”. Hotshots go into the wilderness with chain saws, axes and other heavy gear to carve out a protection zone that separates a wildfire from the people and the homes it threatens to destroy. Usually, it is something they are rarely paid for, but they do it anyway.

They were indeed, part of a rare breed, as all firefighters are.

God bless their souls…

 

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