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For the Fallen Firefighters



On Saturday, Sept. 15, in Memorial Park, hundreds gathered for the International Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service honoring 74 American and Canadian firefighters who had died in the line of duty in the previous year. Councilman Ted Eastburn, asked to speak at the event, offered these words on the events of last week and the role firefighters played in the rescue efforts. -- Ed.

From the apostle Paul: "Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be people of courage; be strong. Do everything in love."

In the words of Jesus: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

In the aftermath of the unspeakable horror this week, my world-view has changed. I now know there is a wrenching, all-consuming struggle afoot. It's not west vs. east, north vs. south, black vs. white, men vs. women, old vs. young, rich vs. poor. It's not capitalism vs. communism, globalization vs. nationalism. It's not Christian and Jew vs. Muslim. It's not us vs. them.

It is humanity's struggle -- God's creatures, created in his image -- each one of us, our moment-to-moment struggle against evil.

Evil was present in the last century in the regional and global genocidal wars that still smolder. It was present in the racist bombing of a Southern church. Evil was present in the murderous rampage of a pair of teenagers. It was present in an American citizen bombing an American government building.

This week evil is in the commandeering of an airliner and its use as a weapon of mass destruction, in the indiscriminant slaughter of thousands of men, women, sons, daughters, moms and dads.

Today evil may be in a husband beating his wife, in a drunk driver running a redlight with lethal consequences or in a Fortune 500 company suppressing information that there are fatal flaws in its manufactured product.

We must be mindful lest tomorrow's evil is in a vigilante mob burning a mosque or a cruise missile destroying a children's hospital in Kabul.

The struggle against evil requires vigilance. It requires commitment. It requires a relationship with God. It requires daily acts of heroism. It requires heroes.

We are here today to honor such heroes.

When evil has struck, death and destruction are at hand, and people are at risk, the arrival of the firefighter elicits the universal response, "Thank God you're here."

The events in New York City the past week continue to graphically show what any firefighter in any community would do in similar circumstances. Indeed it is what those that we honor today did in their own communities during their professional careers.

Firefighters subject themselves to the rigors of training and the hazards of their work as an expression of sacrificial love for their fellow creatures. Their devotion to service, willingly placing themselves in harm's way to rescue and aid another, defines heroism.

As riveting as the images of the rescue effort have been this week, for me, who and what a firefighter is was best captured in the story of frantic people scrambling down stairs to exit the World Trade Center as firefighters hurry inside and up the same stairs, facing death at every landing, to aid those who can't find their way out.

And it is the story of the exhausted, soot-covered fire fighters extracting the crushed lifeless body of their chaplain, bearing him down the street to place him at the altar of a neighborhood church into the care of the resident priests.

Acts of courage and an act of divine humility.

In the images seen this week, I am struck by my own visceral grasp at hope in response to the sight of rescue workers combing the rubble for signs of life.

In the chaos of any scene of danger, death and destruction, in the presence of evil, one thing is certain: The presence of the firefighter is the presence of that which is good and right. The wearer of this helmet wears the crown of goodness and assumes the mantle of righteousness in the face of the forces of evil.

Surviving family members I bow to your firefighter.

Though the ache of your loss is agonizing and your grief inconsolable, know that in your firefighter, the world has known a hero, and that the world is a better place for them having lived in it and we will not forget them.

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