Expressions of appreciation for firefighters continue
The duties of firefighters and paramedics were no different or less important prior to the morning that forever changed this country than they are today. Some days, they’re plucking a wayward dog out of a tree. Others, they’re pumping life back into a heart attack victim.
But after 343 firefighters ran into a pair of burning skyscrapers in New York City in an effort to save thousands of trapped souls and never emerged, it triggered an outpouring of gratitude and appreciation publicly expressed like never before. In the weeks and months that followed, FDNY hats became commonplace. Strangers embraced and thanked emergency responders, who were prominently mentioned in ceremonies, speeches, prayers and at just about any public gathering.
“It was like throwing out the first pitch (at a baseball game) every day,” said Grand Junction Deputy Fire Chief Bill Roth, who at the time was working with the Hemet Fire Department in Southern California. “It just made you feel proud.”
A decade later, the overt acknowledgments of support have subsided but persist. Sporting venues still hold “Firefighter Appreciation Nights.” Tiny flags representing each of the firefighter victims are planted in the grass outside the Grand Junction Fire Department every year on Sept. 11. Citizens still occasionally stop firefighters on the street or at the gym to extend a hand or warm greeting. And when pastors, local government officials and others bow their heads to seek guidance and offer thanks, firefighters and paramedics have their place right alongside police officers and members of the military.
The elevation to hero status may have been gratifying for some who felt underappreciated to that point. But for many who believe whatever gets thrown at them is simply part of the job, being placed on a pedestal left them feeling awkward and outside their comfort zone.
“I think a lot of firefighters feel somewhat uncomfortable in that role because we know what we do on a day-to-day basis,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bright, who has spent all 31 years of his career as a firefighter with the Grand Junction Fire Department. “Yeah, we might be asked to do something that is above and beyond, but typically that’s not a normal day’s operation.”
Bright believes firefighting and emergency services is returning to “being regarded more as the expected government service, and we all have a job to do. I think that’s healthy.”
He also noted that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the federal government funneled billions of dollars in grants through the Department of Homeland Security to states and local governments, presumably to purchase equipment and training to fight future acts of terrorism. Bright and others question how that money has been spent.
“I think a lot of that was emotionally based on people sort of letting their imagination go wild of what next terrorist event could happen,” he said. “That sort of led to the best decisions not always being made and tax dollars being spent not necessarily in the best way or unnecessarily.”
He believes that may be changing, though.
“I think we’re taking a more realistic view,” he said. “Ten years’ perspective provides a much clearer perspective of the threats we face.”
prepare for fallout
By MIKE WIGGINS
Safety and emergency officials from across Mesa County gathered this morning to prepare for the fallout from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Members of the Mesa County Incident Management Group began meeting just before noon at the Mesa County