Most churches have prayer lists, and in some cases the congregation is even invited to share their joys and concerns during a service. The same is true of Bible study groups, Sunday school classes and the like. Last Sunday morning there were prayers said for a local family — probably in more than one church — which had experienced a tragedy earlier in the weekend.
News of Saturday’s early morning explosion that killed Scott Grammer and left his mother, Rosemary Harlow, without a home traveled through Brownwood quickly. One comment heard several times, as the story was told, was how quickly, professionally and bravely firefighters from Brownwood and several volunteer units had responded to the blaze. There was concern for the family, but several witnesses also expressed their thankfulness after having watched area firefighters in action.
Two neighbors, who live just downhill from the site, said they watched as the firefighters were standing on the roof, cutting holes through it at the same time flames were making their way up the outside walls. Those same neighbors said other firefighters approached the building to knock out windows as flames were growing on the other side of the glass.
“I was impressed,” said one of the neighbors. He went on to say that once he started hearing explosions, he knew that he was not going any closer to the burning house. He apparently knew what government officials — and presumably the firefighters — already knew; that Grammer had a history of storing explosives there. That added to the already dangerous and unpredictable nature of the fire, making the firefighters’ actions even more worthy of noting.
It’s not uncommon for public servants to fly under the public’s radar until one of two things happen — they create or resolve a problem. Ask many people who have never needed the service of the fire department and they might say that firefighters spend too much time at the station washing their trucks. Talk to most people who have had their homes catch fire, been involved in an accident or had a medical emergency addressed, though, and you’ll hear praises about professionalism, rapid response times and the like.
Stories about incidents that make the front page of the newspaper generally raise the general public’s awareness about what kind of difficult and dangerous work our public servants actually perform. And the reality is that each department is part of a team of professionals that respond when an event happens or lives are on the line. The same night as the explosion, police, EMS and hospital medical staff members were all involved in a multiple shooting that left one man dead and two people injured — with the suspected gunman at large when they responded to the call.
Earlier this month, the Bulletin ran a story and photos about the physical fitness test that prospective firefighters must complete as part of the application process. Eight candidates were competing for one spot in the department, and seven of them completed the tests. They are designed to simulate conditions firefighters might experience in the field. Despite sometimes treacherous work conditions, and notoriously low pay, our community is fortunate that we have more applicants for department positions than openings — something not all towns can say.
As the conversations about the explosion subside over the next few weeks, local firefighters will probably settle back down under the public’s radar, something they are probably thankful for. I suspect many of them would prefer to pass their shifts educating the public about fire prevention and preparing for the next incident. When the call comes into the station that there’s a fire, though, they will be trained and ready to perform their dangerous work. And once again, I am sure, they will leave witnesses with a positive impression of the professional way they work to save property and lives.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.