I’m sitting in the Emergency Operations Center as we wind down the activation in support of the Fallen Heroes Memorial today. Since the deaths of our two firefighters I’ve been wrestling with what to write – so much is in my head and heart, but finding the words has been difficult. Now, reflecting on the week and the collective grief, the tension, the planning… culminating with a fine tribute to the fallen, it all starts to make sense. A little bit. Well, not so much makes sense as I’m starting to understand the dynamics and interconnectedness of it all. It’s safe to say the vast majority at the funeral today didn’t know the deceased, but what’s more important is that they are part of the same community of servants, a community of people that have dedicated their lives to helping others on their worst day. It’s a unique blend of skills and people that form a community dedicated to bringing order from chaos. With such a tragedy as this, the ripple through that community is profound – wrenching free deep feelings and pushing them to the surface in a community known for being emotionally stalwart.
People don’t call 911 when they’re happy. Indeed it’s usually when they are experiencing one of the worst days of their lives, emotions are high (to say the least), and everyone wants answers and actions. Its way more than just doing some procedures, chasing a bad guy or dragging a hose. There’s a huge human element that comes from both the victims and those around them. Sometimes they just need advice. Sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes they want the impossible and that frustration gets directed at us. Dealing with all of that is really what makes the difference between good and great – and by all accounts Tony and Vince were great. Listening to the stories today I could relate to the predicaments and situations they found themselves in. I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head and said to myself, “yep, I’ve been there…” But I’m not going to even attempt to do their memories justice, people who were close to them paid a far greater tribute than I ever could.
We use words like honor and hero to describe the fallen. I only knew Tony in passing and Vincent not at all (that’s not to say I never ran a call with him, I probably did) but the one thing I can pretty much guarantee is that they didn’t see themselves as heroes. They would shy away from such a label. They were two guys doing what they loved to do. They were part of this community that is drawn to the center of chaos. They did their jobs, they did them well, and they were happy. And that’s what really makes them heroes.
They will be missed. As the ripple passes and the community at large begins to heal we will remember and support our sisters and brothers at the SFFD who bear the brunt of the loss. Our hearts broke with them last week, we stood by them this week and we will be with them in the weeks and months to come as they begin to heal. The very community that suffered the loss came together and waded into the center of the chaos to try and right things. It’s just how’s things are done in this community. They stood by SFFD this time, and I can guarantee that when someone is in need the City and especially the SFFD will be at the front of the line.
Thank you to all who participated and helped us today, particularly those who worked behind the scenes to ensure things went off without a hitch. It’s easy to forget those behind the curtain, pulling levers and spinning the wheels – but without them none of today would be possible, so they are due a huge debt of gratitude. And I absolutely have to say a special thank you to Boudin Bakery – when we put our order in to feed everyone at the operations center than was there to support the memorial, they graciously donated the entire order. Thank you. The gesture does not go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated.