December 28, 2012

Editorial: The unselfishness of firefighters


---- — Pete Timmons, chief of the Champlain Volunteer Fire Department, expressed the selfless attitude of that breed of public servant about as well as any we’ve heard. Talking about a fire in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve this week in the frigid darkness and amid the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, he told our reporter: “It was Christmas Eve, and someone needed our help. We try to do the best we can each and every time we go out.”

What more could anybody ask of a group of people willing to leave a cozy home scant hours from Christmas morning to save somebody else’s property?

Who knows what might have been going on at these firefighters’ own homes — a holiday party? A family reunion? Preparations for a big celebration the next day? Welcome sleep after a long and bustling day?

It makes no difference to the firefighters. No matter what was going on in their lives, the No. 1 priority all of a sudden becomes putting out that fire and saving what’s left of a building central to someone else’s life.

And who knows what they’re likely to find as they embark on their harrowing expedition? Simmering gas cans in the garage ready to blow? Propane heaters moving toward the point of explosion?

It’s like police stopping a speeder: Nobody knows who or what is in that car that could turn deadly at any moment.

It was just last week when a man seething with rage set a fire in Webster, outside Rochester, and waited with a small arsenal for the volunteer firefighters to arrive. When they did, he opened fire, killing two of them and wounding two others. That man’s unspeakable rage made him an anomaly, but who knows these days when the next anomaly will emerge?

P-R reporter Dan Heath asked Timmons whether thoughts of that recent tragedy resonated as firefighters answered yet another call to duty. “We don’t even think about it,” Timmons said. “We just go out and do our job.”

What an unselfish spirit it is that drives local men and women to risk everything, to sacrifice the comforts of home to try to restore tranquility to the lives of people they may not even know.

The great majority of the time, we imagine, a fire in the home represents the worst disaster a property owner can endure. Some, however, are the result of carelessness that can never be taken back, never undone. We urge everyone this winter — when fires are more frequent and more painful to combat — to heed all actions that may lead to problems.

You don’t want a fire in your home. The firefighters don’t want one in your home, either.