I can only imagine the thoughts of those emergency responders as they looked to the sky that clear, cool September morning in Manhattan, not realizing that in a little less than an hour many of them would answer an alarm of a higher calling, forever being emblazed in our memories as we watched the twin towers disintegrate before our eyes.
I can only imagine the fears their families felt as they watched the events unfolding on national TV with the rest of us, and the horror and sickening feeling they must have felt when that second jet crashed into the second tower and word came from Washington that a jet had hit the Pentagon. Then, as it was on December 7, 1941, we, as a people in the United States, understood that our lifestyle was under attack.
This one event, brainchild of a sadistic and evil man who eventually paid the ultimate price for his beliefs of religious genocide, caused a total change in the world around us from that date forth. Prior to this date, the term “Code Red” was used by hospitals and industry as a code for a fire alarm, now it is used to cite possible impending danger of attack. “Homeland Security” was a term coined to describe the safety of people in the US, not a new department of the Government vested with combating terrorism: and body scanning was a device used to medically evaluate someone as to the cause of their infirmity, not to see if someone boarding a plane was trying to blow it up. Again we stereotyped a people, just like we did Japanese, German and Italian Americans in World War II.
But what have we learned from these historical events? Unfortunately, we have not learned very much. We have settled into the same state of apathy toward each other as people that we were in prior to the events of 9-11. The emergency responders who were revered just after 9-11 have lost that thought and place in people’s minds. We are not the kinder, more gentle nation that we were right after 9-11; and I wonder what the spirits of those who lost their lives attempting to save others would say if they could speak to us today, would they be proud of us and the way we treat each other? Or would their tears produce a torrent of rain, due to the lack of empathy and caring that we see exhibited now on a daily basis?
I am only able to speak as a member of the Fire Service and Emergency Medical Service, but I’m sure that they would not be happy with our response toward each other, or the memory of their sacrifice and the sacrifices of others like them who came before and have come after. The emergency responders, firefighters, police, EMS and rescue personnel who live in your communities are people who have pledged their lives to protect yours, even at the cost of their own. They dedicate numerous hours of training and time away from their families to provide for your protection in ways that most people would never be willing to assist with.
They see terror and loss in the eyes of people on a daily basis, and experience things that we hope and pray, that none of you ever have to experience personally. And they do so usually to some form of criticism about the cost of their service, how long it took their service to respond, or the changes that are made in a department to address the ever-changing level of threat we must provide protection against. But yet, the ones who criticize are not willing to enter the lifestyle of an emergency responder, or don the gear, take the training, or make the sacrifice, unless there is some form of personal financial gain included in it for them.
Maybe it is time for us to learn from history. Noted poet and philosopher George Santayana once stated that, “He whom refuses to learn from history is destined to repeat it.” This is true about our current societies and position when it comes to emergency services. We may not ever be able to handle a natural or man made disaster the size of the Twin Towers or Hurricane Katrina, but that does not say that we can’t have an occurrence as devastating in nature for our county or municipality. Neither does it allow us to approach preparedness with an apathetical view. Apathetical views toward Japan in the late 1930s and through early 1941, along with isolationist views from the U.S. culture resulted in not being prepared for December 7; the belief that nothing the magnitude of 9-11 could ever take place on our shores because of who we are, was proved dead-wrong in 2001.
Communities that thrive after the occurrence of a major disaster, whether man made or natural, had planned and prepared contingencies to provide for the safety of their fellow residents and visitors. We must prepare to do the same, before history teaches another very hard lesson. We must put our support and respect in those emergency services that are providing the services and making the sacrifices, rather than those on the outside who have some form of axe to grind, whose resistance to change; and apathy toward improving the level of emergency services in an area is part of a “Cycle of Mediocrity” that affects many areas resulting of failure of emergency services to prepare for updated responses when faced with challenges outside of their normal comfort zones.
This form of apathy sets a culture of mediocrity which lacks the ability to keep us current with the challenges that face us, when we deal with protecting the public. Being lulled into staying the same is easy to do and easily defended, but advancing and providing for the fluid nature of the hazards we face today in emergency services requires dedication, training, funding and the conviction and courage to provide for not only the citizens and the visitors, but also for those responders that protect them. I think and truly believe that those ghosts of 9-11 would firmly agree with this approach and cultural shift. I hope once you think about it objectively, you will agree too.