"We're devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you'll ever meet."
Those were the words of Prescott, Ariz., Fire Department Chief Dan Fraijo on the loss of the elite wildfire crew last Sunday while fighting a 2,000-acre blaze near Prescott.
He was speaking of young men, with an average age of 27, claimed by the fire in the largest loss of firefighters in a single day since 343 firefighters lost their lives in New York City on Sept. 11, 2011.
Their deaths follow within several weeks the loss of four city of Houston firefighters in a hotel fire May 31, and six in the plant blast at West, Texas, in April.
Firefighters were hailed as heroes, saluted and honored across the nation after Sept. 11, but like all human feelings, the sentiment fell off, little by little in the nearly 12 years since. They are still the same kinds of people they were on Sept. 11 and before Sept. 11.
Firefighters run toward the burning building or smoldering forest or bad accident when the rest would run away. Firefighters are simply wired differently in terms of what they will do in service for their communities, their neighbors and total strangers.
Firefighters are in all of our communities. Generally, they love fun, but when they're toned out on a call, there are few who are more focused and more professional.
Firefighters are, as one person describing the elite Prescott Green Mountain Hotshots team said this past week, tough as nails but nice.
Say a prayer today for those lost firefighters, and one more of thanks for the ones who are in our midst, in our communities, ready to go when the alarm rings.