Last week I was called out to photograph a major fire in a downtown building. This particular fire occurred in Lester Prairie, but it could have been in any of the cities in the area.
It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the temperature was comfortable. One thing that set this fire apart from many others is that it occurred in plain view of a downtown park.
Perhaps this unusual vantage point, coupled with the fine weather and convenient time of day, contributed to the size of the crowd that filled the park, resting on benches, enjoying the shade of the gazebo, and gathering in small groups on the bright green grass.
At one point, I am sure there were more spectators in the park than there were during the Prairie Days festival in July.
The occasion might have been some pleasant, light entertainment, if not for the fact that the crowd was watching real property being destroyed by fire, and real people risking their lives to battle the blaze and protect adjacent buildings.
As I watched this slightly bizarre scene unfold, I was reminded yet again how lucky we are to have men and women who are willing to step up and do this important work.
The firefighters, law enforcement officers, medical personnel, and others all carried out their work efficiently and professionally, as they do whenever tragedy strikes.
In this instance, the emergency workers performed their activities on a broad stage and in clement weather, but they don’t have the luxury of selecting the time and place to do their jobs.
I have seen these men and women work in oppressive heat, when simply putting on their heavy protective gear must be torture, before they even begin their demanding physical work or enter a cauldron of smoke and flames.
I have seen them work in frigid conditions in which the bitter cold freezes the water from their hoses as it hits the ground, creating treacherous footing and making their jobs that much more difficult.
These dedicated public servants are on call seven days per week, 24 hours per day, under every imaginable condition.
When most of us are free to go about having fun, or tucked up cozy in our beds, these emergency responders may be called out to help others.
They battle the elements, and sometimes, the clueless public.
Traffic control might seem a minor part of a fire or crash scene, but the people assigned to this duty risk their lives as well, trying to get moron motorists to slow down and pay attention. The number of people who have been killed or injured while working a scene, and the number of times squad cars with lights flashing have been struck by vehicles are indicators of just how dangerous these situations are. The men and women engaged in saving the lives of others could easily lose their own.
As I watched the emergency workers go about their business on that sunny afternoon, I thought about the unimaginable horrors that some of them have had to face in the course of their work things that would give most of us nightmares for life.
We are fortunate that they are willing to take on this difficult work.
On this occasion, the public had a good view of their activities, but much of what firefighters and other emergency responders do takes place out of sight, at times or locations out of the public view.
These dedicated individuals also commit to countless hours of practice, training, and continuing education so they can perform flawlessly when a real emergency strikes.
For every hour the public sees these men and women fighting fires or responding to accidents, there are many more hours of training and preparation that go on behind the scenes.
It might be said that when situations are at their worst, these emergency responders are at their best.
They are, in fact, so good at what they do, we may sometimes take it for granted that when we need them, they will magically appear.
Perhaps instead of taking them for granted, we should take a moment to thank them for their service.
We may hope we never have to encounter emergency responders in the line of duty, but if we do, chances are we will be very glad to see them.