Friday, September 11, 2009

Je me souviens.

Eight years ago today a lot of "Fire Daddies" died. Not mine, but hundreds of other little girls' and boys'.

Roughly six years ago, I attended my first firefighter's funeral. I'll never forget that day.

Jack had been a helicopter medic in Vietnam. FireDaddy used to tell me about nights when he got even less sleep than usual for a night at the station because of Jack's nightmares. They plagued not only him, but all of his bunkmates, too. But, Jack was a good guy. Everyone loved him. The little Fire Babies loved him like a grandpa or crazy uncle. And, he sure did like them back.

He was a handsome, gray-haired man. Pictures of him from long ago, from the days when his children were young, were displayed on storyboards at the back of the sanctuary.

The wives arrived separately from their husbands, many of whom were attending while on duty. Our men looked handsome in their uniforms and white gloves. But they were in pain, and their faces showed it.

I, with my nursing baby, watched from a small "cry room" in the church. Thankful for the 13-inch black and white monitor perched in the corner of the room, I nursed and rocked through my tears. I recognized my husband's figure standing beside the coffin with his buddies.

I was not prepared for what happened when they removed from that quiet casket, first, the fire helmet, and then the flag...

I knew the sound. On most days, it meant "get up and go". The sound that interrupted lunches with wives and kids, Thanksgiving with the families, workouts, sound sleeps, favorite TV shows, white knuckle football games, trips to the grocery store, and hot dinners on the stove. The sound that, on any other day, made their heart race with anticipation.

The tone went out. Then, the faceless woman at dispatch, perhaps the same woman who fetched my husband from a fire the night I went into labor, announced the last call for Engineer Jack. And just like that, she toned out again. And it was over.

Afterwards, FireDaddy silently disappeared around the corner of the church, one in a sad, sorrowful line of firemen. Their heads and bodies slumped. The sadness weighing their shoulders down. I hardly recognized them.

These were the men who flirted with me, laughed with my husband, cooed at my baby, played pranks on each other, drank together, ran together, lifted together, cooked together, ate together. They had nicknames for everyone. They shared a bond made sacred over spilled blood and branded with fire. They shared secrets they couldn't share with anyone else. They had a trust they had with no one else. And now, they were without one.

When they finally emerged from their momentary retreat, they said little. Until we all, a whole family, broke bread. We hugged. We laughed. We passed babies and smiles around the table.

That was six years ago. Our family hasn't been the same since. I cannot even imagine what the families who lost many, not just one, suffered. I cannot imagine how empty their hearts must have felt.

FireDaddy has a tattoo on his heart. It is a black maltese cross split in two by a red line. Surrounding it, "Ut vivant alii "....

So others may live.


  1. Oh I am just so speechless!!!!! What an awesome story!!! We have said the word "firedaddy" a million times in our house!!! It is these stories I keep so close to remind the girls why their daddy isn't home for their birthday's, Christmas, Halloween, field trips! I have thought so many times today ( as Scott is on duty ) how lucky he is to have another family waiting for him to get back to his second home (the firehouse), come to dinner, get ready to play! and save the lives of others for 24 hours. I feel so proud for the bond he shares with all his "firedaddy's"!

  2. *wiping the tears from my eyes* Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

  3. As a firefighter wife, I can't ever remember hearing "firedaddy" but the stories and experience are all the same, aren't they? Not a moment goes by that I don't feel blessed that my husband is part of a big brother (and sister)hood of fellow firefighters and our children (and now grandchildren) are part of this as well, especially now that I have a son and son in law in the ranks.


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