Firefighters deserve our admiration every week, not just after Grenfell Tower, writes Ellen Manning
Amid a heartbreaking array of images from the Grenfell Tower blaze, there are a few that have inspired admiration and positivity.
Emotive pictures of firefighters, exhausted physically and emotionally, in the aftermath of what is probably the worst day of their careers, have sparked an outpouring of support not only for them but for the emergency services and what they do.
As the wife of a firefighter, I’d love to say this support is constant.
Because while most firefighters, paramedics and police officers don’t face incidents quite so shockingly enormous on a daily basis, they face similar situations regularly.
They see death, destruction and loss all too often. It is, of course, part of what they sign up for. But we tend to forget this.
The other side of the coin
While the response to the images of the Grenfell Tower firefighters has been one of awe and respect, I’ve seen the other side of the coin far too often.
While some people react positively to hearing my husband’s a fireman, for others it provokes humour, sometimes disdain.
“Oh, you mean he plays pool all day while he sits around at the fire station?”, they say with a grin.
Or, “suppose he’s got a second job with all that time off he gets?”.
And that’s before we get onto the subject of strikes over changes to firefighters’ pensions, forcing many to work well into their 60s.
I suppose it seems like a bit of fun to them. If I was being generous, I’d think maybe they haven’t thought through what they’re saying.
Because how could they possibly know what it’s like to do that job? In fact, how would they even know what it’s like to be related to someone who does that job? Not knowing, as they leave home for their next shift, what that might entail and whether they’ll come home.
Fearing the worst
Fearing the worst when you haven’t heard from them for too long, just in case something’s gone wrong.
You can only imagine what the partners, parents and children of firefighters racing to Grenfell Tower were thinking on Wednesday morning, knowing their loved ones were running into such hell.
And that’s before you get to the firefighters themselves.
Since the tender age of 20, my husband has seen things that you and I can’t begin to imagine.
Yes, he’s saved countless lives. When pushed, he can tell stories of the huge difference he’s made to so many people and the brave things he’s done.
But for every one of those there’s an horrendous, heartbreaking tale of loss.
The times he and his colleagues tried desperately – but couldn’t – save someone’s life. The times they had to retrieve bodies from the charred wreckage of a home or cut a corpse out of a car.
Images, experiences and memories they will live with for the rest of their lives.
I’m not sure ‘job’ is accurate description
Ask him why he and the Grenfell Tower firefighters do what they do, and he’ll say: “It’s our job, it’s why we joined up”.
But I’m not sure ‘job’ is an accurate description, in the same way it isn’t for the police officers who faced the London Bridge terrorists or the paramedics who attended both of those harrowing incidents.
It’s wonderful to see people recognise the bravery of our emergency services in the wake of the latest tragedy to dominate our news channels.
But let’s remember that these aren’t one-offs.
Each and every day firefighters, paramedics and police officers put themselves in danger, witnessing horrors the rest of us can but imagine.
They deserve our respect, our admiration, and our thoughts not just this week, but every week.
This article originally featured on our sister site.