Firefighters: heroes in disguise
It is a cool spring morning. Lilacs are blooming red-winged blackbirds announce their trills from the lush grasses growing beside a pond. Water ripples.
But the springtime breeze carries the acrid smell of smoke and nearby, at the other end of the farmstead, just west of the swaybacked barn, firefighters stand nearly motionless.
The fire has been put out, for the most part, but a resident of the home has not been accounted for.
One firefighter stands aside, reaching for a drink brought by the firefighters auxiliary.
"Is there anything I can get for you?" she asks him.
He responds: "A miracle."
A state fire marshal dons a fire suit and carries a shovel, sifting through the ashes of what, yesterday, had been a house.
A lone brick chimney towers over him, stretching about 30 feet above the blackened mass of rubble.
Here and there, small fires erupt and last only until firefighters put them out.
The firefighters watch as a backhoe attempts to lift parts of the charred wood. Instead the heavy equipment nearly gets stuck in the soil made muddy by yesterday's rain and water from the fire hoses.
As the minutes pass, the hope of finding the resident alive diminishes.
A few minutes later, the lights on the sheriff's car begin to flash. Clearly, this grim situation is not for passersby to witness.
But the firefighters know that every time an alarm sounds, they might find something like this.
Most of us probably can't fathom doing the voluntary work that the firefighters do. Work in which they are not only placed in danger themselves, but also in which they may stand to witness further tragedy.
In recent fires in Tonganoxie this year there had been slight injury, and no deaths until last week when Roxana Smith's house burned.
That day, firefighters were called to the scene about 6 a.m. Just five hours before, they had been called out to assist at a vehicle accident.
Surely they were dead tired, as well as saddened by the death that was later attributed to smoke inhalation.
Then on Thursday afternoon, the call went out again, this time to Paradise Trailer Park. This time, there was a fairly happy ending, considering no one was harmed by the fire. And on Friday morning, they were called to Tonganoxie Junior High School where an extension cord had caught fire. As I drove to the junior high school, for the newspaper, I said a prayer asking that everyone would be safe. I can only imagine what the firefighters were thinking.
Firefighters are heroes who really don't get the recognition they deserve. They are called out at all hours of the day and night. Their work is dangerous. There is little, if any, pay. Not only do they deserve praise, but so do their families. Also their employers they must have some very understanding bosses to be able to take off every time there's a call.
It has been said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. On Thursday afternoon, a little boy who lived near the burning mobile home and who sat on the curb quietly watching the commotion, reminded me of that.
After the fire was extinguished, the little boy looked up to his father and simply said, "When I grow up, I want to be a fireman.