On firemen

Being a fireman is a very strange job, and all of us non-firemen owe them a huge debt of gratitude every time they answer an alarm. Ever since men and women have lived in wooden structures there have been firemen, and history is checkered with the stories of horrendous fires that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of structures and tragically ended the lives of tens of thousands of people. Human beings fear uncontrolled fire, and they should. The fireman is a relatively modern invention of the late 18th century although loosely organized fire brigades have existed for centuries before that. Ben Franklin is often credited with organizing the first volunteer fire brigade in Philadelphia to fight this terrific scourge of colonial America, where most all of the homes were wooden structures of one kind or another, and open fires were used for both cooking and heating, making life in the colonies a dangerous proposition.To this day, houses burn down every day–lightening, bad wiring, dangerously stored chemicals, children playing with fire, unattended cooking fires, smoking in bed, malfunctioning furnace, bad hot water heater. Into the chaos steps the fireman, big coats, helmets, and boots, red trucks, hoses, and axes. To say that this job is dangerous is to underestimate, certainly, the real danger of an uncontrolled fire, and the collateral damage of collapsing structures,dangerous smoke and fumes, possible explosions and host of possible complications. Central Texas just lost ten firemen to an explosion in West,Texas. Firemen die every day in the line of duty, so one wonders what drives the soul of fireman to constantly put their life in danger on a regular basis.Of course, some people are fearless, and don’t give danger a second thought even though their lives may be on the line. Others are service oriented and want to help others through a sense of civic duty. Still others will do it as a job, although one wonders about how much money it takes to make a person risk their life for a paycheck. The fireman in American culture is iconic, and many a young boys have dreams of one day becoming a fireman. The job may seem romantic, heroic, mythic, maybe, but the reality is that people make mistakes,fires happen, and modern organized societies need fire-fighters, so young men,motivated by a series of factors, sign on as firemen. The job of fireman is,then, a paradox of danger and heroism. Perhaps it is this mix of the heroic and the tragic which creates this strange aura of romantic hero wearing a red helmet. I know firemen, and I appreciate their work, their rushing in where others fear to tread, their total lack of fear. Communities need public servants to help them deal with the chaos of disaster and the destruction of accidental fires. Literally, they might rescue us from our own mistakes and folly. As long as there are firemen, in spite of their (our) best efforts,tragedies will happen, and firemen will lose their lives, and the job of fireman will forever be an exotic mix of heroism, danger, and thrills lived out in smoke, fire, and water, soot and sweat. As long as firemen continue to save their communities, little boys will want to be firemen.