When I was a young police officer I was called to the scene of a fire at a residential home. While directing traffic around the fire trucks a young boy approached me. He was breathing heavily and difficult to understand. After calming him down he managed to tell me that another house was on fire around the corner from the first fire. I asked him to show me and we both ran to the house. By the time I arrived the entire back of the home was engulfed. My sergeant soon arrived and we learned that an elderly woman lived in the house alone. It was late at night and she was certain to be home. We banged on the front door and the back door and had neighbors call her all to no avail. We realized if anyone was home, they would not last much longer due to the intensity of the fire. With time running out we kicked in the front door. We were immediately met by heavy toxic smoke that drove us back. Getting our composure back we pushed through the smoke and found her in the kitchen. We dragged her out of the house to a waiting ambulance. I was later told she survived. Our detectives did a great job and arrested the pyromaniac responsible for the fires. He got his thrills by burning down homes in the middle of the night with people inside.
A few days after the fires, I was told to report to my Lieutenant’s office. He wanted to talk to me about what later became known as the Rollins Street arson case. With my chest puffed out and generally happy with what we had done, I reported to his office and told him what happened that night.
“Ok Steve, I just wanted to get your side of the story since the woman you saved sent us a bill for the door you kicked in. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t trying to hose us. That’s it, you can go.”
I stood there for a moment dumfounded and dejected. My puffed out chest soon deflated.
“A bill, we saved this woman’s life and we get a bill,” I thought to myself. Young and naïve, I walked away in somewhat disbelief. Halfway down the hall, my Lieutenant called out.
“Yes, Sir” I replied.
“Welcome to police work! Never expect thanks for what you do. That’s not why we do it.”
I learned a lesson that night.
We never got a thank you from that lovely elderly woman or her family…just a bill. But that’s ok because we don’t do it for the thanks or the medals or any of that. We do it because we want to…we do it because it’s our job. Many of us raised our right hands and took an oath to do our duty no matter what−even at the cost of our own lives. Unfortunately, we see far too many lives lost these days. My little story pales in comparison to those who have given their last full measure. The real heroes. They are all in my prayers.
It’s been many years since the Rollins Street fires and I’ve long retired. But I still hold affection and admiration for all my brothers and sisters who chose a life of service.
So that being said, with all the craziness surrounding us with the Coronavirus, I dedicate this blog to all the doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, nursing home and health care workers, dispatchers and everyone else on the front lines, caring for and protecting us every day and say thank you. Thank you for working double shifts. Thank you for putting yourselves and your families at risk to take care of ours. Thank you for working 24/7. Thank you for doing this for not much money. Thank you for caring for the sick and the infirmed. And thank you for risking your lives to save the lives of perfect strangers.
I find it amazing the adulation given to sports stars and movie stars and the like. I am amused at the endless award shows where they slap themselves on the back for a job well done. And I sometimes marvel at the amount of money they make. But that’s ok. Because no amount of money can ever take the place of the look on someone’s face that you helped through one of the most difficult times of their lives. So even though they don’t expect anything from us… it is ok to say thanks. So, the next time you see a health care worker, paramedic, policeman, fireman, nurse or doctor or anyone else on the front lines…say thanks. And if you are unable to, can’t or won’t, that’s ok too; they will still be there to help you… because that’s what they do.
Stephen Phillip Monteiro is a law enforcement, security and intelligence consultant. He’s held senior leadership positions with consulting firms in Washington, DC and is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Visit his website: http://www.thegoodamerica.com to leave your comments.