Fully aware of what happened on April 4 on Squirrelsnest Lane where two Colerain firefighters, Capt. Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira, died in a basement fire they were called to just as they were about to end their Unit 1 shift at 7 a.m., I knew exactly why I was seeing what I saw.
Being a firefighter isn't always sleeping until a bell rings, sliding down a pole into big red trucks and driving away with Dalmatians. As we saw, it's also about death and incredible heartache.
While we slumber the night away (or the day, as the case might be), firefighters all around Greater Cincinnati -- many being volunteers -- get up when we call and come for whatever ails us. No questions are asked, they just come. And they're happy to do it.
I don't think I ever met Broxterman or Shira, but I have close ties to the Colerain community. I grew up there, a happy kid with a great house, great schools and relative safety.
I've come to understand the sacrifices firefighters make. If I drive through Colerain and am involved in a car accident, they'll come and rescue me. If my aunt and uncle's home, which is a few doors away from the house I grew up in, catches on fire, they'll be there.
Not to take anything away from police officers -- they also risk their lives to help keep our communities safe -- but they carry guns, have arrest powers and command respect. Politicians have, for a couple decades now, clamored to curry favor with the police by adding more cops to the street in effort to show they're doing something to curb crime.
Firefighters don't really get that kind of respect. Not as much of it, anyway.
Having been doing this journalist thing for a while, I've been to my share of fires. I also had the opportunity to be in the first Colerain Township Citizens Fire Academy in 2001. And last fall, the Hebron Fire Protection District invited me and other members of the media to a two-day fire academy.
Through both experiences I got a chance to see up close what it takes to be a firefighter. And I can say one thing for sure: As much fun as it looks, I have no desire to ever do that job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 42 firefighter deaths in 2006 (the last year data was available), up from 28 in 2005. That makes firefighting one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States.
But thank God there are people willing to do something akin to jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, but with a higher purpose: Running into a burning building to save your life and your property. It's crazy to think about that and what these two deaths mean when you see fire trucks roar down the street.
Several years ago, I called my sister when she was living at my parents' house in Colerain. She had a cold and had taken some Benadryl, and it made her drowsy. Luckily, the phone ringing next to her bed woke her up and, as she tried to get me off the phone so she could get to sleep, I heard a loud beeping sound in the background.
I asked her what it was, and she told me she didn't know and tried to hang up. I said I thought it was the smoke detector and she ought to get up.
She did and walked down the hall and into the first floor to find the kitchen ablaze. A candle had been left burning and caught some mail on fire.
Within minutes the Colerain Township Fire Department was there and kept the damage to a minimum.
I hate calling people like firefighters "heroes." The word actually used to mean something until everybody became one.
Now, when the recent house fire in Colerain reminds us of the willing sacrifices people like Broxterman and Schira make, it becomes difficult to find the right word to describe who they are. "Exceptional" might be a place to start looking.
Contact Joe Wessels: firstname.lastname@example.org