"There goes my hero, watch him as he goes -
There goes my hero, he's ordinary."
- Foo Fighters, "My Hero" (click to play)
I had an Olympics post all ready to roll today, but after writing a long-winded introduction on a separate topic, I decided to just chop the post in half and let the intro stand on its own. So I’m postponing the Olympic story for a couple of days, in favor of expressing some well-deserved gratitude towards a lot of people that I’ve been delinquent in duly recognizing.
On Saturday night, my son and I were walking towards the car after an evening swim meet, and paused to wait for oncoming traffic to pass before crossing the street outside our community center pool. We ended up standing on the corner for well over a minute, watching as a parade of firetrucks went rolling past.
Right now, one of the biggest wildfires in California is less than 8 miles from my house. It’s burning from Big Sur through the Los Padres wilderness area, depositing ash on our doorstep each morning, covering our skies with smoke at all hours of the day, and forcing evacuations from areas where classmates of our children live.
For two nights last week, our family drove to the top of a neighborhood hill to watch the fires burning on a nearby ridgeline; that hilltop has now become an unofficial gathering point for neighbors to assess the progression of the flames. Fortunately, the flames we see are part of a backfire line established as a literal firewall to prevent the progression of wildfires into the inhabited regions of Carmel Valley.
There’s an abandoned airstrip one half-mile from my house which now goes by the name of “Fire Camp”, as it serves as a staging area for firefighters from all over the state who will be honorary residents for however long it takes to fully contain and extinguish the blaze. There are probably more than twenty fire companies who have lent valuable manpower to our little community.
While here, the firefighters put in extremely long hours; on my morning trail runs, I hear the sounds of their caravan in the distance rumbling off for the day shortly after 6AM. They typically stay out for as long as daylight allows, rolling back towards camp just as darkness falls.
As if on cue, there was a spontaneous outpouring of appreciation from the grateful residents of Carmel Valley for the returning workers. A party at the community center stopped in its tracks while people yelled and cheered and applauded. People walking away from the pool clapped and raised thumbs up in the air to salute the firefighters as they rode back to Fire Camp.
As for my son and I – we just waved and yelled “thank you!” to each truck that passed by. And by about the fourth or fifth one, my eyes started to water.
I know that people use terms like “hero” and “role model” far too liberally in modern times, but for this group of workers, there’s really no other way to describe them. They spend weeks and months away from home, living in frequently inhospitable conditions, putting their lives at risk for people who very seldom recognize their sacrifice. These brave souls weave the blanket of security under which the rest of us sleep, never fully aware of its true cost. But looking these firefighters in the eye at the end of their work day, a hint of that cost is apparent – and that’s what was so moving about the impromptu pep rally.
However, what strikes me most significantly about these men and women isn’t any kind of superhuman attributes – rather, it’s how amazingly regular they are in all other walks of life. They’re folks with jobs and families, they like a good meal and a soft place to sleep, and they feel the strain of a long workday just as much as anybody else.
They’re like us - but then again, they’re not. However, to all the folks who love this place we live in, one thing is certain: they’ll never be forgotten.