Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Losing our Firefighters and our Innocence

Arizona is famously arid; residents almost expect raging wildfires every summer.  Some years half the state seems to be on fire and a pall of smoke keeps the rest of us coughing and anxious.  The firefighters here train year-round to be ready for the summer fire season.  Arizona has some of the most experienced wildfire fighters in the country.

This week, we lost 19 of those firefighters in the fire at Yarnell.  They were members of an elite "Hotshot" crew.  Despite their training and equipment, the fire was just too much for them.

Watching last night as a broadcaster near Yarnell talked about the resulting shock and grief in the community, I was transported back to New York in the days following 9/11.  Back then Tom and I lived in a Brooklyn neighborhood just over the Manhattan Bridge from Manhattan itself.  Our fire station was one of the nearest to the World Trade Center, and because the crisis started at the time of the shift change, both the night and day crews responded.  Virtually all the firefighters assigned to our neighborhood died when the Two Towers went down.  For a time there was talk of shutting our station down completely.

Grief in a situation like this is not the same as the grief that follows the death of a loved one.  On the one hand, we didn't know these people as individuals, so the element of intense personal loss is missing.  On the other hand, these are our official protectors - our designated heroes - the people trained to take care of us when everything is falling apart.  We are almost lulled into believing they are invincible.  When disaster strikes and they are not able to save themselves, where does that leave us?  Our worldview suffers a tectonic shift and nothing is ever quite as safe again.

“After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over. . . ” ~ Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

No comments:

Post a Comment