I didn’t know B.J. Carnes, although we may have met in passing at a fire scene or two over the past few years. I learned reading about his life in Tuesday’s Bulletin that he was almost exactly one year younger than I am — we were one day separated from sharing the same birthday. It’s obvious from the comments that many readers have left on our Web site that he was greatly loved and admired. All that has helped us to learn a little more about B.J., who died last Saturday evening, but I still didn’t know him as a person. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, did he know me.
One thing I’m confident of, however, is that even though he didn’t know me, B.J. would have done just about anything for me. Particularly if I found myself in a dangerous situation and needed assistance. That’s what he and his fellow firefighters do each and every day — help strangers who are on the wrong side of a life-threatening situation. I have shared my awe and appreciation of what firefighters do for a living in this space before. Since learning of his plane crash on Saturday night, however, it’s renewed those sentiments for our firefighters, and the service to the community that they offer daily.
My family has never needed the fire department’s assistance during an emergency, but we’ve certainly seen firemen around. My oldest daughter has learned from the programs they’ve brought to her school and earlier to her daycare. One evening a few years ago, while we were playing at the park near Station 2, a couple of them invited her to sit and play on the antique fire truck there. On several occasions she’s looked up in awe at the ladder truck, extended high into the sky, when it makes its appearances at community events, and waved as the fire trucks have passed in parades.
Fire departments across the country do much more than just fight fires and visit with school-age children, though. Even though the definition of firefighter is “one who helps fight fires,” the job description goes far beyond those five words. Countless times each day they are called upon to assist other first-responder agencies, helping with everything from medical triage to traffic control. When someone detects a suspicious smell, often the first group dispatched to investigate is the firefighters. Then there are the hours upon hours of study and training — all with the purpose of making them more effective when it comes to helping us — the general public, who in most cases are total strangers to the firefighters called to the scene.
And it would be one thing if these actions were considered merely part of the job, but a great many of us are protected by volunteer firefighters. They respond to emergencies just as their employed counterparts do. And they work with each other — as was seen in the recent success containing a potentially devastating grass fire that started in the Camp Bowie area. Several volunteer departments, as well as the Brownwood Fire Dept., worked in a coordinated effort, saving property and lives. So their service to others goes beyond just being a job for many of the men and women who serve as firefighters.
While I didn’t know B.J., I am glad to know a couple men who work for the fire department here. I knew several in the town we lived in before moving back to Brownwood. Each that I’ve gotten to know was hard-working and dedicated to serving the public — regardless of who that public was. Much is said of extending kindness to strangers. Much more should be said about extending service to strangers — something B.J. and the other members of the Brownwood Fire Dept. — as well as in departments across the country — put into practice each and every day.
Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@