WE ARE ONE

Lasha Morningstar

September 3, 2012

No matter how many years pass, Sept. 11 pushes our thoughts back to that savage infamy that changed our world – physically and spiritually.

While too many play the World Trade Centre blame game, tens of thousands still deal with the physical reality of what happened that day.

Grief for the nearly 3,000 lost souls shadows many lives.

And the carnage continues. Those first responders, the EMTS, police, firefighters and later the dedicated souls digging through the rubble looking for remnants of lives lost, inhaled noxious dust and fumes.

Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain with the New York Fire Department, died while giving last rites to a firefighter in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre.

CNS PHOTO | COURTESY OF HOLY NAME PROVINCE FRANCISCANS

Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain with the New York Fire Department, died while giving last rites to a firefighter in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre.

Some recovered. Others were not so lucky. In fact, 11 years later, the firefighters south of the border say they go to about four funerals a month of their colleagues dying from the impact of 9/11.

Firefighters are a special breed. This reality recently hit me again as I watched a local TV newscast. The story was supposed to be the rescue of a couple who slipped into the North Saskatchewan River and could not climb out.

Fire and ambulance crews hurried to the river bank. Firefighters, after some scrambling, managed to pull the couple to dry land. The camera panned over to a tent on the bank where the homeless people were living.

JOURNALIST'S SNIPING

That's when the journalist began sniping about how the couple, through their own life conditions, put the firefighter's lives in danger. She went on. Then she opined how much it cost to dispatch the rescue crews and how much better it would be if that money went to housing.

She took her condemnations to the fire chief, thrust her mike at him, expecting him to laud and agree with her.

With patient wisdom and the soul of the Good Samaritan, he explained to her that their job was to save lives – not judge.

Instead of looking at the root causes of why the couple lived in a tent, the journalist put an easy, lazy, sensational top spin on the clip.

Would she blame activists injured and needing ambulances when they demonstrate against a white supremacist march? Would she blame fallen climbers needing a variety of rescuers to remove them from the mountain cliffs?

Would she blame the mother who does not make it to the hospital in time and a paramedic or fireman is called out to deliver the baby often on the side of a dangerously busy highway?

What the journalist did was blame the couple for their poverty.

The firefighters didn't.

Just like the firefighters in New York. While everyone was running, scrambling, staggering, away from the World Trade Centre inferno, the firefighters were running in. Even those off duty jumped in their cars and tore in to help.

Stories of their heroism live on. Even their chaplain won a gold helmet. My beloved Father Mychal Judge cared for his firefighters with profound compassion. Wearing his Franciscan robe and sandals he visited New York firehouses. Should the alarm sound and the men rush for their gear, he would shout out to them, "Your sins are all forgiven."

When a friend's call alerted him to the terrorists' crashes that Friday, the Franciscan brother dashed to the towers.

His final act was to gather a dying fireman into his arms and give him the last rites. Then he himself was killed by falling debris. That immortal photo shows five first responders carrying his broken body slumped in a chair out of the falling buildings.

The word "heroism" would be shrugged off by firefighters. When they hit the headlines, we learn what they do – save lives, put out fires, wield the Jaws of Life – and deliver babies.

FUMES AND TOXINS

It's only now that they are standing up for medical coverage and help as they battle their own fight with cancers and diseases caused by fumes and toxins they are exposed to in their work.

In any story I did while in the secular world I found firefighters to be honourable to their calling. I broke up a recent dinner party into gales of laughter with the comment "I've never met a firefighter I didn't like."

Amidst their chuckles, I protested that was not what I meant (Although there is that calendar . . . ), but that there seems to be something almost genetic in their makeup that lets you know their work is their mission.

Known for their firehouse cooking, one firefighter explained with straightforward directness why they strive for gourmand excellence. "It may be the last meal we have."

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)