Anyone who is involved with or even exposed to members of the “Brotherhood” knows the depth of their devotion to service.
The excitement of the event was evident for many blocks downtown; from the banners and flags flying high, to the huge fireman statue and bucket trucks lining the streets in front of the venue. Almost everyone I saw everywhere wore something identifying what station they were affiliated with.
It was almost like a celebration combining everything important: a family reunion, a class reunion, education, appreciation and graduation for all these unsung heroes and all they do in our communities.
Fire fighting and first responding are not simply what people in this profession DO, it is WHO they are: fueled by a passion and purpose that is palpable, they exude a pride that permeates their families and their lives. Anyone who is involved with or even exposed to members of the “Brotherhood” knows the depth of their devotion to service.
I saw several families enjoying the expo together. Many had small children who wore evidence of their pride in the profession, and were obviously excited to experience the fire trucks first hand! Their curiosity was contagious, prompting me to ponder what it must be like having a hero in your household.
I could almost feel the testosterone upon entering the expo floor; it was like Tim the Tool Man Taylor’s dream garage on super steroids!
Any kind of truck or tool you could ever imagine for fire and rescue were on display, along with lots of flashing lights and fun things for firefighters and their families. There were T-shirts of all types, fire gear and decals, hoodies, even hot pink shorts sporting firefighter’s family affiliations. I saw special gifts and plaques thanking family members for sharing their sacrifices and supporting their passion, along with plenty of pink fire gadgets and gear for the women warriors as well.
Sectional sofas were strategically scattered throughout the convention center, welcoming wanderers to sit and share stories. There was even a sweet Dalmatian fire dog, well trained and eager for affection, surrounded by adoring fans.
Of course the highlight of my adventure was a ride to the sky in the bucket truck! The belt and the carabiner designed to connect me and keep me safe looked like they might fit the jolly green giant. I had to hold on with my hand, alternating with the other shooting photos of the skyline from a new perspective.
I always get energized immersing myself in this environment. The bounty of the Brotherhood goes so much deeper than the experience, to the shared core values of safety and service.
I experienced that firsthand the following Friday when I flew to New York City, with the 9/11 Memorial at the top of my list of tourist attractions for this trip. I had been there several times, each time absorbing the essence and the evolution of this huge hole in the heart of the city and its people.
I was on assignment at Columbia University. My fellow facilitator and I arrived early for our annual adventure. We took the train down to Greenwich Village and walked up the High Line Trail to pier 43 where we caught the water taxi down to the 9/11 memorial. It was a beautiful day; blue sky and fluffy white clouds reflected off the mirrored buildings currently under construction there.
I was moved and motivated to see so many visitors from countless countries curious and committed enough to wait in a line that looked like something you would experience at Disney and be screened similar to airport security, in order to stand in this sacred space that changed all of our lives forever.
I had visited the twin towers on a trip years ago. I took the elevator to the top knowing I would see nothing out the windows due to complete cloud coverage. I went back to ground zero shortly after it became the literal and virtual void of lives and liberty lost. I honestly had no idea what to expect this time after experiencing its early evolution on several occasions.
Twin fountains now fill the footprints that once housed the World Trade Center towers; the tallest in New York City at the time, and international icons of wealth and prosperity prior to their demise. The warm sun danced off the cool water cascading gently into the huge square holes, its resting place not revealed.
Seeing and feeling the names of those who died there inscribed in the bronze parapets around the pools was palpable. I was fascinated, and found it fitting that all names were carefully configured to represent relationships and connections of those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy that shook our country to its core. A large number of firefighters and first responders were listed by ladders and battalions.
My friend found the name of her friend, a flight attendant from Greensboro who had given birth in the hospital where she works. I was glad not to see the name of my dear friend who narrowly escaped the tower just minutes before it collapsed. It was also comforting that my friend who fought fires in NYC for over two decades retired just days before his entire battalion battled to save thousands of lives, valiantly giving their own in return. I imagined children visiting the memorial in reverence and respect, reading the names of their parents, possibly feeling their permanent presence here.
On site as well is the “Survivor Tree”; a Callery pear tree planted in the 1970s, reduced to an eight foot stump in the wreckage. Rescued and replanted in a park, it grew to 30 feet prior to being uprooted again by severe storms, and again survived to be replanted at the memorial in 2010. The tree embodies the spirit of survival and resilience characteristic of our country and communicated through this national monument. Nearly 3000 people lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001; more than 400 of them were first responders who died performing their sworn duties. Many who survived still suffer from survivor guilt and post traumatic stress. I hope they can appreciate that while many died, tens of thousands are alive today as a result of the courage and commitment of Brotherhood.
Both events evoked excitement, awareness and reverence for the reality of the roles of first responders. The expo, a celebration of all that is good and necessary in the line of duty, and the memorial, a remarkable place of reflection and remembrance were a powerful combination to experience within one week. I recommend both to everyone, but suggest you not wait for either to celebrate the commitment and camaraderie that IS the Brotherhood. Sincere thanks for your service!