Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Protecting First Responders

Published September 11, 2011 on the earthbongo blog: http://blog.earthbongo.com/2011/09/protecting-first-responders/

Ten years ago, amid the tragedy of 9/11, we saw the sacrifices first responders make to save others’ lives. Their heroic deeds remind us that ordinary people are sometimes called upon to do extraordinary things. As we honor our firefighters, we should also recognize the emergency personnel who perform critical tasks but remain out of the public eye.

Among the ranks of these unsung heroes are fire police like those of the Fountain Hill fire station in eastern Pennsylvania. They spend sleepless nights at the fire hall, brave extreme weather conditions, and put themselves at risk to ensure that firefighters can do their jobs safely.

As Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc across the eastern seaboard, fire police officer Tiffany McCartney knew she was in for a long night at the station. She and more than twelve other “Hurricane Crew” members stayed up through the Sunday night peak of the storm, frantically fielding calls. From 2 a.m. until 5 p.m., 47 calls came in, sometimes four or five at a time. The crew rushed to pump out basements flooded by torrential rains. At a local elementary school, they prevented a potentially disastrous fire by stopping water from leaking onto a generator.  While the storm unleashed high winds and heavy rain, Tiffany stood in the downpour, making sure no one hit the firefighters as they came out of their trucks in the dark.

Besides protecting firefighters, fire police keep the public out of harm’s way by controlling traffic and crowds, securing emergency scenes, and evacuating residents from unsafe areas. Tiffany says that the challenges of working with the public have taught her to be patient and understanding, yet firm in enforcing the rules. “People may not understand why you’re there,” she remarks, and may jeopardize firefighters by ignoring a barricade. In these situations, fire police risk their own safety to prevent firefighters from being hit. Some have lost their lives doing so.

Tiffany is continuing a family tradition that began with her father, Marlin Bozes, who served as a fire police officer. Growing up, she excitedly watched him go out on calls. “I saw what he got to do, and that he was out in his community helping people,” she says. “That inspired me.” She has been following in his footsteps for seven years, volunteering alongside her husband, firefighter Glenn McCartney. Serving together has brought the couple closer together, giving them a shared sense of purpose. Tiffany reflects that volunteering “was a joint effort, and doing it together gave us a common bond.”

Tiffany is keenly aware of the dangers confronting the firefighters she has worked with for so many years. “Being on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you never know what’s going to happen,” she says. She was reminded of this reality when, during a home fire, a floor collapsed and nearly trapped a firefighter in a basement. Luckily, he survived, but had to be taken to the hospital. When he was released, the firefighter eagerly returned to keep battling the blaze.

Another vivid memory is the five-year anniversary of 9/11.  A local family was remodeling their home when a lamp fell on some plastic, engulfing the entire house in flames. Strong winds made the fire especially difficult to put out. To Tiffany, the fire crew’s work was a fitting tribute to the 343 first responders who lost their lives in the Twin Towers.

On this anniversary, Tiffany is organizing a commemoration ceremony at the fire hall. She has asked firefighters to share their thoughts and memories of 9/11. “To me, that was the best thing,” she says, “because it’s coming from the mouths of people who do the same thing for their community as those guys did in those towers.” For those who share that common bond, remembering the events of that day—and the protracted recovery effort that followed—takes on a special meaning.

The fire service forms a close-knit community forged by trust, and each member is conscious of his or her responsibility for the others’ lives. “Everybody’s connected,” Tiffany says. “Everybody’s in that brotherhood or sisterhood of the fire department. It’s like an extended family, and most of us would do anything for anybody else.”
We at earthbongo salute the heroes of 9/11 together with Tiffany and other first responders across the world. Thank you for your service.

September is National Preparedness Month, which is a great time to plan ahead for emergencies.  Check out earthbongo project Be Ready for Emergencies to see what you can do to keep your family safe.

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