One of the first things firefighters did upon entering our house was attempt to throw tarps on everything they could see. I thought this was amazing. When I expressed my incredulity to the chief he said that their top priority, aside from, of course, getting people out safely and fighting the fire, is saving people's possessions.
The thought of these burly-ass firefighters taking the time to throw down tarps in an attempt to protect our stuff from smoke and water damage reduced me to tears. Working in the news industry for more than a decade, I've seen my fair share of devastating house fires. But my vision of what went down in each home was only limited to what ultimately aired on television, and of course, that was the flames and the charred remains because that makes for good TV. Good television is not someone's unburned belongings kept safe from water damage by tarps that firefighters hastily flung down while fighting flames.
I guess the movies made me believe firefighters are mostly destructive; you know, crashing through windows, hacking through walls and using furniture to bash through doors - whatever it takes to fight fire, you know? But they aren't like that at all. They are thoughtful in the midst of the chaotic dance they are performing to try and save whatever structure is aflame. And it was like that, like a dance. Each player knew his part and performed it well. Had you set their firefighting performance to some sort of classical piece of music people would pay good money to watch. It would at least be as good as any Broadway number.
Organized chaos, the chief told me when I expressed admiration. The chief, by the way, stayed with me as I toured the blackened ruins of our second floor, excitedly pointing out certain items they were able to save. I was so touched that he seemed so personally pleased to have been able to save a picture here, a dresser there.
Firefighters have always been considered heroes, but mostly for those overtly heroic acts; hoisting someone down a ladder to safety, catching a child tossed from a window, bravely storming up staircases to the twin towers against a flood of panicked, fleeing people... But this thing I learned about them that day, the fact that they strive not only to save people in peril and fight the fire, but that they try their very hardest to save your personal items and it is important to them... Well, that chief, and the obvious pleasure he displayed in pointing out certain belongings of ours that made it through the fire, that will stick with me until the day I die.