Sometimes there are no words.
That is exactly what I thought as I watched Fort Rucker firefighters in full “battle rattle” gather in the center of the post Soldier Support Center as they prepared to climb 110 flights of stairs in honor and memory of first responders who died in the terrorist attacks on the United States Sept. 11, 2001.
One hundred and ten flights of stairs. One. Stair. At. A. Time.
The clang of the brass fire bell—tolled nine times—echoed through the three story rotunda. It followed a reading of the Firefighters Prayer for friends, families and co-workers who joined in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Ceremony. “I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me, to guard my neighbor and protect his property,” the prayer reads in part.
Then the climb began. The applause of supporters lining the halls on each of the three floors echoed over the tromping sound of the firefighter boots filled with men and women who daily accomplish the incredible.
Fire fighters of all ages and sizes climbed each flight of stairs until they reached the equivalent of 110 flights. That is no small feat. Especially in full gear.
Accomplishing the incredible. That is what I thought as I watched them, exactly what I think every single time I watch firefighters do what they do. Every. Single. Time.
Accomplishing the incredible. That is what I think when I watch firefighters entering any burning building. That is what I think when I watch them emerge.
That is exactly what I thought during a recent Enterprise City Council meeting as a young firefighter was given the city’s “Extra Mile Award” for service above and beyond. He clearly did not think he should have been singled out for what he says he does by instinct.
The young fighter was accompanied at the council meeting by his firefighter father. His grandmother was also a firefighter. “So it’s a family tradition and one thing they have instilled in me is ‘Service above self’ and helping anybody whenever you can,” he said.
“Just doing my job,” was his response to receiving the award. “I love my job.”
I think it’s the “life and death” aspect of the vocation that I find hard to come to grips with. These first responders run into a crisis when everyone else is running out—and often to protect people they don’t even know. Imagine going into a burning building to rescue a stranger, knowing you may not come out.
Firefighters give up holidays and free time to drill. Firefighters drop what they are doing when the call comes and they do it not knowing if it will be their last call.
Sometimes there are, in fact, no words. “Thank you” does not seem adequate.
But here it goes anyway: Thank you for putting your lives on the line to save people, sometimes ones that you don’t even know. Thank you, firefighters, for your dedication, commitment and sacrifice.
Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.