When I was a little kid, I never wanted to be a firefighter; still don't. But I have admired them for a long time.
Between undergrad and grad I took a few years off to live on my own, holding down a blue collar job in a print shop in New York. My bachelor apartment was in Manhattan, but it was the 70s and a very bad time for the city, as it dodged in and out of pending bankruptcy.
A dire moment, indeed, and there were clear villains and heroes among municipal employees. The sanitation guys, admittedly had to tackle a lousy, smelly job. That is, when they did it. Reporters followed their trucks, and chronicled how some of them would drive into an alley, park out of sight, and rest for a couple of hours. On the payroll.
Not good, especially at that time, but in all fairness the cops were doing it too, lots of them. Slide the patrol car into a quiet spot off the beaten paths, turn down the radio, and take a nap. This was such a standard practice there was even a term for it, "cooping," as in "make like a pigeon and tuck into the coop."
All these practices were well publicized and publicly condemned. But then there were also the firefighters. Despite what anyone else was doing, when that bell rang, they bundled up and headed into a danger zone. It didn't matter what the call was about, either, be it minor or dire. Everyone in that city respected the firefighters, at a time and in a place when there wasn't a lot of that emotion going around.
Decades later, in a new century, came the worst terrorist attack on American soil. When the world was crumbling -- literally -- they didn't ask anything, just shouldered heavy gear and walked into the towers to do their jobs. Hundreds didn't walk out, ever. One office worker who survived remembered how, when everyone was doing everything to get the hell out, these guys were walking up and towards the inferno. Against the swell of frenzied humanity, logically obsessed with escape, firefighters hiked up the stairs, moving in the opposite direction. Just to do their job.
So with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, with so much behind us, I just wanted to express my thanks to the guys with the funny hats, who are always there. Forget Seal Team Six; day in, day out, these are the real heroes.