‘Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department, they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.’ NYPD Chief Edward F. Croker (1863-1951)

October contains National Fire Prevention Week this year from October 7-13. Many thousands of fire departments throughout the United States celebrate this week as an educational opportunity to provide materials and information to the public they serve. One great resource is located at www.nfpa.org . There you will find a variety of media and printed data to support the effort at fire prevention.

On the fire marshal’s blog in Florida a feature that is listed daily is the ’Today in Fire History’ section. It lists the important fire events that have historically been recorded around the country for that date. It contains the dates, names and locations of these fires logged on that date with a summary description of the event. I read it every day in fascination. Partly because some of these events are so horrific in scope as to be incredible. Others remarkable in the fact that similar circumstances such as ‘wall collapse’ or unanticipated ‘materials explosion’ caused death and injury to so many firefighters.

All of us remember where we were and what we were doing the moment that the September 11, 2001 attack occurred in New York City. I was on my way to an Alarm Association Region meeting in Ocala, via the Electrical Contractors Licensing Board meeting in Tampa. We had landed in Tampa at the exact moment the first plane hit WTC 1, the North Tower. As I collected my rental car, unaware that this had happened, the clerk asked me if I had heard about a plane crash at the world trade center. I had not. However, when I climbed in my van to drive to the meeting the dash radio was crackling with indescribable events happening simultaneously. When I reached the hotel meeting location, everyone gathered and watched in silent horror as events unfolded live on television.

In this narrative I want you for one moment to suspend time and history. Imagine if you will that by historical chance we had ‘broken the code’ of the plans the hi-jackers had concocted and we knew the precise time and circumstance of the strike, though still unaware of their nefarious means of approach and execution. Even had we been equipped with this foreknowledge can you imagine for a single moment that those firefighters would have hesitated in their duty? Absolutely not. We would still have had 343 firefighters and 71 LEO’s killed in service to their sworn duties.

As Chief Croker states in his speech above it is about the commitment to duty that those sworn to their cause belong. It matters not what happens after the fact of the commitment. They have sworn to uphold their oaths and by so doing are willing to accept all the risk, every danger and each mission to rescue others and suppress fires. As you view news footage faces of those firefighters as they marched towards the burning towers you clearly understand the fear etched in their faces. But you also see bravery beyond what can reasonably be expected to arise in the human spirit. They steadfastly retained their commitment to duty and proceeded knowing full well they could easily and quite likely perish.

This then is the reason they rightfully preach to us each ‘Fire Prevention Week’, each Fourth of July, every Holiday Season and all those committee meetings about fire sprinklers and code inspections. They know real fear; they have witnessed actual destruction; they have buried their fellow firefighters. In short, they are there for us. Let us honor their efforts and assist them in their work to prevent fires. Better to prevent than to experience.

Bob Neely

Executive Director

Alarm Association of Florida