Random tragedy sparks any time.
It doesn’t take a holiday.
Grills fire up. The sweet, acrid scent of charcoal wafts into nostrils. Yard dogs salivate.
The flick of thumb on lighter sends a race of sparks to obliterate a green fuse. A pair of sneakers hustle away. Rockets sizzle into the sky, splattering balloons of color on night’s silk fabric. Kids scream in somewhat fearful, mesmerized joy.
Most people enjoy July 4th as a day off. A chance to chill and grill and blow stuff up.
But one group of men and women, no matter how chill they get, will always be ready to gear up.
Every community in Wise County depends on our firefighters. They leave family and friends in the midst of making happy memories. They respond to fires, wrecks, injuries and sickness. They place themselves squarely in the heart of danger on a regular basis. And recent events show us how deadly fighting fires can be.
In April, 10 firefighters from five fire departments were killed when a fertilizer plant exploded in West. Firefighters in our county face potential explosive results when battling fires at gas and oil field sites in the Barnett Shale.
Last Sunday, while battling a wildland fire in central Arizona, 19 members of the Prescott Fire Department were killed. That’s more members killed than are even regular active members at most volunteer fire departments in Wise County.
A wind shift and other factors still under investigation caused 19 of the most elite firefighters in the world to be killed in one seemingly random, tragic moment. It was the deadliest wildland fire since 1933, when 25 firefighters died in a blaze near Griffith Park, Calif.
Our Wise County firefighters regularly head into tangled woods and grasses to battle fires. When they get up in the middle of the night or have to take off in the middle of the day to battle fires, they don’t just leave their families at home, they also walk into the path of danger.
Although we’re celebrating our nation’s independence tomorrow, we should also ponder who keeps us safe at home on a daily basis. Who’s going to respond if that salivating dog knocks over the grill and sets your back porch on fire? Who’s going to be there in minutes if that flaming bottle rocket misfires into a dry clump of cedars? Who’s going to be there when an uncle who drank too much booze on the patio rolls his pickup on his way home?
Tragedy never takes a holiday.
“When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.”
- Firefighter’s Prayer
Brandon Evans is a Messenger reporter.