Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Remembering the fallen

Walking on the Randolph Street overpass above Columbus Drive today we saw a sight that has become quite familiar in town, the phalanx of police cars and black SUVs with tinted windows. I turned to my friends and said matter of factly: "look, the president is in town." A man with a grim look on his face shook his head. My heart sank when he told us that it was actually a procession for the firemen who were killed this morning. I knew exactly what he was talking about. In the morning the reports came over the radio of a burning building whose roof had collapsed with two firemen trapped inside. It sounded bad and all I could do was hope for the best. Then I got on with my day and forgot all about them, that is until I saw the fire trucks and a Chicago Fire Department ambulance carrying the body of one of the fallen heroes.

I haven't stopped thinking about them since.

Firefighters are special. A friend in the CFD gave me an insight a long time ago about what a firefighter is all about. When he was about to graduate from the Fire Academy, there was the scramble to get assigned to a "good" house. Most normal people would think that the difficult houses to get into are the ones in relatively safe neighborhoods, ones where a typical day includes maybe one or two false alarms, a trash fire and perhaps getting a call that there's a cat stuck in a tree.

Not so, the difficult houses to get into are the ones in the worst neighborhoods in the city, "where all the action is." That's why they became firefighters in the first place.

The fire today was in an abandoned building. The CFD could have contained the fire to the building and let it burn itself out. But firefighters don't do that. A group of them entered the burning building on the outside chance that there may have been squatters inside. Others were on the roof looking for hot spots. The two men who died were inside when the roof collapsed on them. Seventeen other firefighters were injured.

My heart aches this evening for the children who will have no father this Christmas, for the wives who have lost their soulmates, for the parents who have lost their sons. I keep thinking of the men as they left their homes for the last time, kissing their wives goodbye, telling their children to be good because Santa will be watching them, just as I do every time I leave for work in the morning. That morning ritual is so important because none of us ever knows for sure if we will come home in the evening.

Of course most firemen, policemen and people in other professions who put their lives on the line every day thank goodness, do in fact come home after work. All of them deserve our thanks and eternal gratitude because there is no way that we can repay them for what they do for us.

The names of the two men who will not be coming home again to their families are Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer. Pray for them.

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