We become heroes by saving

The recent firefighter fatality in Asheville has sparked a blaze of public sentiment for the profession. I don't seek to degrade firefighters, but I refuse to get caught up in the wave of arbitrary admiration by a portion of the public bent on somehow “owning” the mourning that really belongs to the family of the fallen.  Why don't we have parades and set up scholarship funds in the names of deceased HVAC technicians, fast-food workers or exterminators? Don't they work to make our lives better too?

Firefighters are generally reckoned to have very dangerous jobs, thus the glorification. Fewer than a hundred firefighters die every year while on duty. A significant portion of those deaths are due to cardiac arrest or stroke, which could be attributed to the physical stress of battling a fire, but I'd guess many are also due to existing health issues. Uniforms don't magically defy the obesity epidemic. Firefighter calendars are like college girl-calendars. They don't all look like that.

You see, professional firefighters have pretty cushy jobs. They know it, too. Ask one. They get paid to sleep, eat and watch TV, play video games, etc. They generally have excellent benefits of municipal jobs: paid vacation, retirement, health and life insurance.

Every time a Firefighter dies while actually fighting a fire, conventional society jumps into lock step to deify him. Nothing spring-boarded this quasi-religious arbitrary glorification more singularly than the firefighter deaths on 9/11.

We don't become heroes by dying; we become heroes by saving. The first rule of the first responder is protect yourself. You've got somebody to save tomorrow as well. There are, after all, about 3,000 civilians killed in fires every year in the U.S. It appears that not being a fireman is a damned dangerous job too.

— Norman Plombe

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9 thoughts on “We become heroes by saving

  1. Big Al

    Yes, they DO become heroes by dying, because they are making the ultimate sacrifice IN SPITE OF the comprehensive risk assessments which first responders make in order to protect themselves before entering a dangerous environment.

    First responders voluntarily obligate themselves to advance INTO danger while the rest of us, having made similar risk assessments, run AWAY.

    First responders meet these obligations for little more than blue-color wages and benefits, so a little hero worship should be nothing to complain about.

    You should drink your sour grapes in private.

  2. normanplombe

    Average chimney saver salary is around 41k (from salary.com) and they are very well benefited. Your letter perfectly quantifies the blind, flag-waving icon-loving society which I’m criticizing. If you look at the history of fire companies, especially in larger cities, you’ll see past the propeganda. They (like everyone else) do their ‘job’ for a paycheck.

  3. Cyndi Ammons

    And by the way, learn to spell, get your facts correct, and then write a letter that makes sense. Shame on you. Propaganda is spelled with an “a”, not an “e”. Do you risk your life for around $30k per year to save others? I don’t think so. Get over yourself.

  4. Margaret Williams

    Please, however strongly you react to this letter, refrain from attacking the writer and using foul language (even in shortened form).

  5. normanplombe

    Cindy–mea culpa on the spelling…thought this was an informal enough forum to forego the spell check…(is there a spell check here?). I defy you, however, to contradict my facts (how did 41k a year become 30??). In my further defense, I WAS in the Coast Guard a million years ago…and if one were to take the similarly-glorified Kevin Costner portrayal of a ‘guardian,’ you’d think i was single-handedly saving the seagoing world by ‘serving’ in that organization..I was not…I spent four years pestering fishermen and recreational boaters while simultaneously conforming to myriad asinine regulations…for a paycheck.

    The letter was a re-redraft of my original… the editors asked me to rewrite to fit certain specs. I’ll ask Ms. Williams to post the original text here.

  6. rubysioux

    The fact this dude watched the “guardian” pretty much says it all.

  7. Cyndi Ammons


    The Mountain Express did not mind posting your outrageous letter distorting the facts and lessening the importance of our firefighters, but they did NOT post the original letter I wrote to you. So, I will put it in a context which is a little less hateful and so you can understand it.

    My brother is an Asheville firefighter. The fallen brother (they are a FAMILY and we are their family as well) was his FRIEND. My brother has been a firefighter for many years and he risks his life every day he is on the job to save people – even people like you who are ungrateful and uneducated enough to not understand the reason firefighters and law enforcement officers are mourned the way they are. I don’t know where you live, but the firefighter who died was the picture of physical fitness. My brother is physically fit as well. The State Troopers I know are physically fit. Are you?

    You can say it’s a paycheck all you want. It’s not. It’s a way of life. It’s a choice to HELP others. And my brother doesn’t make, nor has he ever made $41k per year as a firefighter. Only the Captains and the administrators make that type of money. My brother has another job which he does to supplement his income because our firefighters are paid so poorly.

    So. Before you quote some website that uses NATIONWIDE AVERAGES, why don’t you actually talk to a firefighter in Asheville and ask them how easy their job is? Why don’t you ask them how many of them have nightmares every night because of the horrors they’ve witnessed? Why don’t you ask THEM instead of posting some inane piece of garbage that only shows that you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Wake up and live in the real world, Norm. And remember, when your house is burning down or you’re in the midst of a heart attack or a stroke, those men and women who come to your door to save you are the very ones you say are less than heroic. Would you rather your HVAC repairman grab your water hose to put out your housefire or your fast-food worker try to defibrolate your failing heart with a greasy burger? I don’t think so.

    Cyndi Ammons
    Cullowhee, NC

  8. Unknown

    I must first say that I am very insulted and offended by your letter of ignorance. So rather than bash you like I would so much like to do, maybe I can put some things into my perspective for you.

    Norman would you die for someone that you’ve never met? Someone that you know nothing about?

    Do you know what it’s like to spend 10 nights a month away from your family?

    How many times have you got up on Christmas morning, not to see your family open their gifts, but to put on a uniform and go to work for 24 hours? Knowing you’re going to miss all of those memories that you cannot recreate.

    Have you ever spent 24 hours going from call to call, finally eating a cold meal 10 hours into the shift? Going to bed 3, 4, even 5 times in a night, finally giving up and just sleeping in the truck seat until the next call? Do you know how that feels?

    Have you ever felt the grasp of a wife, husband, son, daughter, mother, father as they tug at you from behind asking is he/she going to live?

    Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night because you were having nightmares? Firefighters also do this, but their nightmares are memories of calls they have been on. Scenes that only belong on the script of a horror movie.

    Being on the outside looking in, being an armchair quarterback, or a backseat driver is all too easy.

    Norman until you walk a mile in my shoes, you will never even have a remote grasp of who I am, what I do, or why I do it.

    And lets get one more thing straight. I am not a firefighter because I get paid to do it. I am a firegighter because God called me to do it.

    So next time you feel compelled to open your mouth and put your foot in it, remember this:

  9. Fran

    So, what your saying is we can’t count on you to run into a burning building to save someone’s life?

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