29 December 2010: Thanking First Responders for their Service

Thanks for service, first responders

The incident that landed Fire Chief Kelly Babeon in the hospital after a flight-for-life air lift brought home the issue of the $4.2 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation bill, having been reduced from its original $7 billion funding level due to the threat of a filibuster. Congress finally passed the bill, which establishes a fund for the first responders to the September 11 attacks, on December 22.

It’s interesting to reflect upon the character type of an individual who opts to spend his/her life in a profession the nature of which requires him/her to be perpetually in a state of risk when simply doing a day’s work. Watching interviews of 9/11 First Responders dwindling corps members—Zadroga’s death in 2006 was the result of complications brought on by his efforts at the World Trade Center—was a powerful reminder of nobility of the professionals that included in this case more than firemen.

“We didn’t ask if one guy was a Democrat,” said one responder, “or if another was a Republican.” In the end, they were all human beings deserving of dignity.

Nine years and three months years after the attacks, men and women who without regard to personal safety had rushed into the debris and spent weeks and months breathing the toxins are now enduring horrific physical after-effects including rare forms of cancer.

Perhaps they’re the fortunate ones among their brethren given they weren’t among those who died in the collapsing inferno.

The reason any legislator would oppose spending such a trifling amount, which is about one half of one percent of the bill that extended the Bush tax cuts, is unfathomable unless one descends into Dante’s levels of hell for an answer. The idea that a price can be set on life and death and even on health and limbs is not only intellectually incomprehensible but also morally reprehensible.

How one responds to situations can be a powerful indicator or his/her ethics. How a nation responds also speaks about its moral values.

In response to the September 11 attacks, we launched two wars costing trillions of dollars purportedly to hunt down the one responsible for them. Nine years and three months later, Osama bin Laden is still free. Juxtaposing that fact against the debate about the Zadroga bill—trillions spent on death and destruction and a few billion to give aid and comfort to those who gave their all—helps one understand what is truly important to people who opposed the bill.

Is a human life worth a buck? Several thousand? A few billion? Perhaps I should ask some pencil pusher at a Big Health organization who routinely makes that call or Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) who was sorely miffed about working—as in not breaking a literal sweat—during Christmas week.

Through their actions, first responders’ values are on full display for all to see: courage, selflessness, compassion to name a few.

With specific regard to Chief Babeon, this is his second close call in just a few months. The first didn’t deter him from venturing forth and placing himself at risk once again. But then, I suppose that is not unusual among his fellow responders: Personal risk is all in a day’s work.

The fight over the Zadroga bill is done for now. In five years, it’s likely to be revisited. In the meantime, several of the men and women who did their jobs on September 11, 2001 will have died and the health of others will continue to decline. In the meantime, their brother and sister first responders will continue to do their jobs, putting themselves at risk so to make the rest of us safe.

It might be a house fire, or it might be a traffic accident to which they respond. Or it might be something far more potentially cataclysmic. We don’t know, nor will they until it happens.

It’s become practice among Americans to show gratitude to military members by saying, “thank you for your service,” upon their return from combat. That same expression should be likewise extended to those men and women who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, not on some foreign land, but here, at home.

So, to Chief Babeon and all his fellow Clear Creek first responders, emergency medical providers, fire and law enforcement officials, and others assisting them, thank you for your service.

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