First responders are heroes, and we needed them to be

Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, CA

The North Bay of California has experienced hell on earth. We have also been inspired again.

The largest and deadliest wildfire in California’s history ravaged communities throughout Sonoma and Napa counties in days. Over 40 people dead, with hundreds still missing. Over 5,000 homes and business destroyed. Days after they started, schools across the entire Bay Area closed and people frantically searched for masks to avoid the toxic air.

“Armageddon.” “War Zone.” “Epic Catastrophe.” The aerial pictures and reports from the front lines described it all.

Emerging from smoke and rubble and chaos, however, are heroes in helmets and yellow. Tearing down doors, racing down tornadoes of flame, holding the line of the fire, firefighters from cities and counties and states across the country and world descended upon the North Bay and went to work. They quelled the fires, and lifted our spirits.

One week from the start of the fires I saw a cartoon depicting Superheroes lined up: Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, Spiderman, etc. — welcoming the newest member to their Superhero Club- a worn out, dirty and soot-firefighter. Signs thanking firefighters and first responders fill poles and street signs throughout Santa Rosa.

We needed them, and not just because of the fires.

We live in a time of unbelievable cynicism and division. Anxiety — political, economic, racial, sexual — permeates our daily lives. Many Americans no longer believe their government is there to serve and protect them, our Sunday sporting events have become socially contentious, our institutions are mistrusted and everyday becomes more difficult for working people to survive and imagine a better future. The anxiety is unbearable.

Then came the fires. And with them heroes, including police officers and law enforcement, who reminded us what it means to take care of each other. What it means to sacrifice to help others — without care of their age, gender, race, sexual preference, immigration status, or political party. They reminded us what the best of humanity, and America, looks like: Selfless service and sacrifice to those in need.

First responders rushed into dangerous situations of historic proportions and simply helped. They didn’t brag about it, they didn’t blame anyone else, they didn’t discriminate who they helped. They did their job, with humility, and inspired us all.

Firefighters and other brave first responders like law enforcement and medical personnel were certainly not the only ones who stepped up. Citizens across the Bay Area welcomed thousands of evacuees into their homes. Churches and community groups across the region fed, housed and clothed people who lost everything. Local elected officials went sleepless for days ensuring resources moved to those in need. I’ve never seen our community come together with such unity and force in our collective assistance to those fleeing the flames.

The damage of these fires will be long felt throughout the North Bay. There will be years of rebuilding, and for those who lost their homes and loved ones — a lifetime of recovery. But for much of our community, we have a reason to believe again. Believe in each other, believe in the power of collective action, and believe we can be a society that helps all people. It started by believing again in heroes. Real life ones.

Josh Fryday, Coffey Park, Santa Rosa
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