Men and women of local volunteer fire departments are the backbone of our community.
They work and live amongst us. They are our neighbors, co-workers and friends.
But in addition to carrying on their lives, they have a second life in which they perform acts of heroism and bravery that most of us don’t even see occurring. They risk everything, put their lives on the line and step in where others fear to tread.
We’ve made no secret of the appreciation we have for our first responders. We’ve seen time and time and again the work they do locally, protecting property, maintaining community safety and saving lives.
Last week, hundreds of them went above and beyond the call in the massive search for 22-month-old Kenneth Howard, who wandered into the hills on Sunday, Mother’s Day, and wasn’t found until Wednesday afternoon.
They wrestled through challenging terrain, day in and out, looking for this boy, and they exposed themselves to dangers during the search. One official talked about rescuers who had 40 or 50 ticks on him after a day of searching.
Prestonsburg Firefighter Michael Tussey talked about the emotional toll this search had on him personally during a press conference last week, telling the nation how finding that boy made him cry.
It helps us understand the human side to these men and women, who put their lives on the line every day to help others.
Tussey and other firefighters do this work because they have a heart for it, because they care about their communities.
In the response to the search for Howard, in the response to the local fires, crashes, emergency medical calls and other kinds of emergencies, these men and women give everything and receive little in return more than a thanks.
Howard’s story gripped the region and the nation. That attention will fade and the story will fall into the background, but the men and women who responded to this incident won’t. They will continue to respond to the emergencies in their own communities, as well as lend a hand in other areas where needed, all because someone has to do it.
If you know someone who’s a firefighter, thank him or her. Let them know how much you appreciate the sacrifices and risks they take to keep us safe.
Regardless of whether you’re sent a bill for fire department “dues” — sometimes the main method of support for these departments — contribute money to help them expand services and buy equipment. Sometimes those dues are just enough to keep the doors open.
And, if you’re willing and able, volunteer with local fire departments. Fewer and fewer people are stepping up to stand in the gap between the worst and us. If you can, please do so. Yes, it’s often a thankless job, and there is no pay, but it is a vital part of keeping our communities going.
Most of the responders who went into the mountains last week searching for Howard did not go because it was their job. They did not go because of any reward for themselves.
They went because it was their duty, because “someone” was needed, and they heeded the call. We’re thankful for not just their work in this situation, but in all situations.
Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for showing us what service looks like.