To My Brothers and Sisters in the Service:
So its been a few months now, and I still miss the Chief. The new guy is good. I like him, together with the other officer on our shift, we are forging a new team and it is working out well. I still miss Phil. I keep expecting him to come into the battalion's office at the big house, ...shouting out his familiar greeting. We all miss him. But as the film says, the show goes on. Rest in Peace, Brother.
Its been a long hard winter, and no doubt you know someone with cancer too. My sister, my mother's best friend, my Dad, my friend's wife. Another brother's niece. My beloved brother, Chad Berg and I were yackin' it up last month. He agreed that the way he feels is that it is only a matter of time before he himself or someone else he works with, another close brother is hit with cancer. I feel the same way. I try to wear my mask whenever I'm around anything these days, but you know how it is, we do our job, ...we do it well. Sometimes the mask comes off. Gotta communicate, gotta get one that isn't frozen, regulator seized up,....can't see out of it, .......
While we are waiting for them to design a system that we won't like, (because we won't be able to circumnavigate it) each of us needs to work towards defeating the predominance of cancer in our profession. Watching Phil fading away before my eyes haunts me still. We can only fight this by working smarter. The last fire Phil was around for was that warehouse fire we had in the University area. I was up on the stick, working with a fireman trying to get water in where it would make the most payoff, and my mask froze solid. The firefighter with me froze, the firefighter coming up to replace him froze so bad he couldn't climb the ladder safely. So there I am, my mask off, trying to complete the job, getting engulfed in some of the ugliest smoke I've seen in some time, hiding my face in my coat collar and hood. (In case you wonder, I did get in trouble for not coming down when my mask froze). Phil died shortly after. I wished, for my children's sake, .... that I could reverse that moment, and not stay up on that ladder. You know how it is, you want to get the job done, ..as if you were born to it.
And just the other day, an enthusiastic student in my Building Construction class, showed me pictures of a neighboring fire dept's effort at a recent house fire. My heart sank as I saw in the photo's that department's chief officers and top company officers digging in the soot and debris, firefighters performing overhaul, ...not a single SCBA.
In January, the 5th to be exact, a little boy I had never met, just 5 years old, passed away. His name was Coleman and he wanted to grow up and be the light of his parents life. But he died of a childhood cancer with a name so foul I can't even pronounce it. At last year's Farthest North FOOLS St. Baldrick's Childhood Cancer Fundraiser, I ...the president of the chapter, couldn't be there. Both in '07 and in '06 I shaved my head at the event, but raised only a few dollars each year. Now, I'm kickin' myself. Our chapter has raised over $100,000 dollars for St.Baldrick's, money that goes directly to the research to stop child cancer. I myself have done little to help. I'm ashamed.
I've gotten to know Coleman, bit by bit by watching him on YouTube films his family made. Coleman Scott-Cancer. I look at my own boy, just 6 years old and I know that I would be devastated if I lost him. Especially in such a long drawn out fight for survival against something that takes over everything. Coleman's parents are struggling to recover. So this year, I've told them that I am raising money in their son's name. For his memory, for Phil's memory and Skip Causey, Rowdy's son and so many other children and firemen that have been lost.
We preach RFB, and we say EGH, and DTRT. We are talking about our daily tour, our life as firemen. But many of you have come to understand as I have that these words mean more and expect more of us than we first thought. To me, RFB also means doing whatever I can to prevent more cancer deaths of the firemen I live and work with. To me EGH also means that going home alive includes when you get to retire, so you can live your days out with your loved ones, who have waited night after night for you to come home from a call. And DTRT also means doing everything I possibly can to spend my available time, my effort, making people aware of what needs to be done. And who better than firemen to raise money for children, to keep them from dying? Who better? Tell me.
Chief Croker said that we rescue the people from the fires of what our society has created. I choose to include cancer in that flame. I believe that everyone is now being exposed to products that cause cancer to be unleashed and as a fireman I will lend my time to this and I am asking all of you to help me remain accountable to this. So far, I have spoken with over 100 people in the past few weeks prior to tomorrow's St. Baldricks Event in Fairbanks, hosted by our chapter. I have only been able to raise $190. But I will keep trying, as the chapter president, it is up to me to lead, ...or get out of the way. I'm asking you all to join me, asking you to give of yourself or go to an event and shave your head. Its only once a year. Have of you where your heads shaved anyway. For whether it is for each other or for the children like Coleman, we are doing what we do best. Being ourselves, giving of ourselves for the people we have taken an oath to protect and to serve. People praise us for our bravery, but I think I am humbled by little kids like Coleman, staring death in the face and with a Stout Heart. Do Not Forget Me in This.
To finish this, I enclose a quote from the note I have sent to many who are not firemen, whether they welcomed it or not:
"Have you ever heard a young child, dying of cancer, praise God for his moment of life? I have. It will drop you to your knees no matter what you believe in. Have you ever held someone's hand while they slipped away after giving it everything they had to hold on to life? It would seem that people all around me, people that I know and care about are being hit by cancer and I feel unable to do much about it.
The thing about being a fireman is that I am appointed to serve and to intervene when all hell breaks loose. So as a fireman, trained to help, to step in, trained to provide aid, trained to save, to serve the people, I find it incredibly difficult to stand by and watch these children die without doing something to help. I may be too late for Coleman, but maybe not for my son, or yours or your daughter, or your sister's daughter. Please give, just a few bucks, just a few bucks to a bunch of gnarled headed, obstinate, fun loving firemen who gather together to raise a ruckus and bring the house down......But are brought to their knees by little children like Coleman who have no means to fight back other than strength of heart. Something we really admire.
I have found as the years go by that it is very difficult to keep from growing cold hearted towards people that willingly or through ignorance act in such a way that injures or kills the innocent. I've held too many dead infants, peeled too many car parts away from dead bodies, closed the door on too many forgotten people who died alone. Children are the fireman's weak spot. They pierce the armor we build up around our heart like an arrow through a breastplate. Children teach firemen to feel emotion again, ...something we try to shy away from. We are always friendly, but many firefighter's hearts are long since broken to bits. Children are blessed with the ability to heal those wounds, even if just a little bit. I don't know any fireman, male or female that wouldn't give their own life to save a child from harm. Over the past four years our community of firefighters here have raised over $100,000. Not bad for a tiny town, with less people than my old neighborhood in Orange County! Its gone so well that now we fireman are almost outnumbered by the folks in the community joining in!
A few bucks, it'll add up!! I know the economy is tight, I know you have to conserve and I know there are many worth causes. I will understand if you can't give. But I'm only asking for a few Latte's worth of dollars. Please give.
Thank you. In Your Service,
Ben" ( www.stbaldricks.org, to give: enter my name under the blue field as a shavee.)