Have you hugged a volunteer firefighter today?

I have a reputation for being somewhat emotional. But sometimes it’s justified.

Earlier this month I had the privilege to be invited to the Oxford Fire Department’s Annual Awards Banquet. (Tyler usually covers all things police and fire, but sometimes I get lucky.) As I sat listening to Oxford Fire Chief Ron Martin talk about the type of person who becomes a volunteer fireman, one who selflessly sacrifices their own time and safety to help others, I couldn’t help get choked up. Not just because Ron’s words were touching (which they were), but because I know first hand how these volunteers make a difference.

Sometimes people take for granted these individuals who, as Ron put it, “answer the call” in the middle of the night when there is a fire or other emergency. But if they have ever come to your aid in your hour of need, you would never make that mistake.

Some of my first memories involve the Oxford and Greene Fire Departments. Despite the fact that I was very young when we were first “introduced,” they remain some of the most vivid memories I have of my youth.

I was only 3 1/2 when our barn burned down. It was in early December, right after my grandmother died. The days were short, and it was already dark when we sat down to eat dinner (spaghetti, I believe). It was during that meal when one of us, I’m not sure who, first noticed the flames across the road.

By then, it was already too late. The dry hay stored in the loft provided both the tinder to start the blaze and the fuel to turn it into an inferno in what seemed like a matter of minutes.

It all went up so fast.

Fire crews from both Oxford and Greene responded, but it was too late to save either the structure or the livestock in it. But not by lack of effort on their part, I assure you.

While I recall hearing the sirens and seeing the trucks with their flashing lights, what I remember most is standing at the end of the driveway looking, not at the flames, but the faces of my family members.

It wasn’t just the barn (which my father, siblings and scores of aunts, uncles and cousins had builtseveral years before) and the animals that perished in that fire, but the dream my parents had of living on a farm after my father retired from the New York City Police Department.

It was definitely a tragic day for my family, but it could have been much, much worse. The barn was located just across the road from our house, both of which were surrounded by plenty of trees. I don’t need anyone to tell me what could have happened if not for the firefighters who responded; the volunteers who no doubt left their own dinner table to help us in our hour of need.

I have the utmost respect for all firefighters. My uncle Mickey recently retired as a Captain from the New York City Fire Department. My nephew John followed in his father’s footsteps (also retired FDNY) and is now a firefighter and EMT in the Florida Keys.

But the volunteers, they hold a special place in my heart. They do a job I know I myself could never do. They put their life on the line for others, with no expectations of compensation or remuneration. I am deeply touched by their dedication and commitment to their communities. The members of our local volunteer fire departments, and the emergency squads which work along side them, deserve our respect and appreciation.

To those who answered that call all those years ago, and those who continue to do so today – Thank you.

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