Most people have no idea what the significance of that number is. If you don’t……ask a firefighter. They will tell you right away without having to think: 343 is the number of New York City Firefighters who died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. Why do firefighters keep that number in the back of their head? That may be a bit harder to explain. It’s a an easy reminder that their jobs are dangerous. Not that they really need a reminder as much as they do a reality check from time to time.
This week fire departments nation wide are taking part in a training called the Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down. The purpose is to re-evaluate your fire departments operating procedures and come up with better ways to keep firefighters safe and lower the Line of Duty Death statistics. Unfortunately during this unique time of brainstorming to keep everyone safe a tragedy has struck the fire service to serve as a reminder yet again that no matter how much you train, fire is a dangerous element with a mind of it’s own. Nine firefighters were killed in Charleston, SC when a roof collapsed and trapped them inside a Sofa Warehouse. The firefighters who were killed ranged in age from 27 to 56 and none of them were “rookies” – these guys have fought many a fire in the past. I’m sure they arrived at thier station early yesterday just like thousands of other firefighters across the nation. They checked their apparatus, completed their station duties, attended training, ate lunch, argued over what to watch on TV…… the same things that are done daily in fire stations all over the United States. They never once thought that this would be the last day they would be alive. That’s what makes firefighters unique. They have a job that goes from 0-60 in a few seconds, and they have no idea what they might get sent on when they show up for work, but it never seems to cross there mind that what they are doing might be dangerous.
If you have a moment, say a prayer for the families of these 9 fallen firefighters. Both their familes, the ones they live with 2/3’s of the year – their wives and children and the one’s they spend the other 1/3 of the year with – their co-workers and friends at the fire station. If you have some extra money send it here: The City of Charleston Firemen’s Fund, P.O. Box 304, Charleston, SC, 29402. If you see a firefighter, just give him or her a smile and be thankful that there are men and women out there willing to risk their own life to save yours. And try just every now and then to remember these numbers…….