I was just climbing into bed at two in the morning last night when I smelled something burning. Believe it or not, we do have fireplaces here in southern California, and some people actually use them to burn real wood, but this was not that. It smelled like something synthetic being burned. I doubted anyone was burning plastic in their fireplace. Since none of our smoke alarms were going off, I followed Marti outside and sure enough, there was that smell, and even a little smoke visible. We got an unhappy Chandler out of bed to look around and he ruled that it was indeed a house fire or car fire in the neighborhood and that he had even seen something red. Quick to pass that off as a fire engine, he went back to bed. Looking in the direction he pointed, I surmised the fire engine would have to be sitting on my neighbor’s roof in order to be seen. Nevertheless, he has an uncanny sense about things like this so I was most likely to trust him though I was still a little uncertain as to whether this was an official fire and whether the fire department had it covered. Could I be confident about going to sleep?
So after debating about it a little more, I decided to call 911 just to be certain. Marti, trained from her years as a flight attendant to anticipate emergencies, was impressed. Sure enough, the 911 woman confirmed there was a fire near our location and gave an address about three blocks away. I had been a little intimidated about calling wondering whether this was a real emergency, but also imagining what might happen if they didn’t know about it or if this was something new they hadn’t yet heard about. The 911 woman was very kind and thanked me for the call and told me not to hesitate calling if I encountered anything suspicious.
All this made me conscious of the incredibly selfless work and commitment of first responders. Having both a son and a daughter in careers as front line first responders, we are acutely aware of the dangers and sacrifices these jobs require.
Even as I was already planning on writing about this this morning, the local section of the morning paper carried a front page story of an L.A. County firefighter who lost his life last night fighting a house fire. He was a 20-year veteran and one of the best in his unit, and yet this shows the danger that is ever present to a first responder even to someone with years of experience. The family in the home was rescued; the firefighter was not.
“It is our firefighters who don’t think twice when the bell is rung to respond to whatever is out there,” said a County Supervisor, “they have no idea until they get there.”
This man left behind a wife and two teenage boys. It’s a high price to pay, but if you ask anyone in this line of work who faces this possibility every day, they will tell you, “He was just doing his job.”
When you’re a first responder, there is no thought to whether a person is a man or woman, boy or girl, Democrat or Republican, Christian, Muslim or atheist, black, white or brown, privileged or underprivileged, able or disabled. Life is life. All life is sacred. The breath in each one is the breath God breathed. You don’t ask questions, you save the life, and if you should lose yours in the process, you knew, going in, that was the bargain. You would give your life, if needs be, for the other.“Just doing my job.”
Imagine what this world would be like if we all thought about people the way a first responder does. All prejudices aside. “Just doing my job,” we would say when caring for someone — anyone. Somehow, I think that God, who already gave His life for us, would say the same thing.