Chicago is a good place to be- if you want to meet and work with really good firefighters. I have visited the platoons at Engine 4 and Tower Company 10, at Engine 98 and Ambulance 11, at Engine 85, Truck Company 51, Truck Company 2, Aerial Tower 1, and many more.
Today’s scene was the house of the platoons that make up Engine 42, Truck 3, and the Squad 1 crews, the Command Van, Ambulances 42 and 93, and the fire prevention section. The occasion, thankfully, was not one of sadness or mourning; it was ceremonial, that is certain, and it was a changing of the guard, a solemn and profound moment.
There is an old phrase, “A picture is worth a thousands words.” Yes, there is nothing like a fine work of art or photography to inspire one to write volumes and letters about art. But as I learned today, people are art too, and everyone is one of a kind.
I was watching the CBS-2 mid-morning news today and saw the mayor speaking at Engine Company 42, a station in the downtown area. I thought about going down to take a photo of him with the incoming Fire Commissioner, Jose Santiago, but I thought against it as I was on another writing project. However I learned that the gathering might still be going on so I took a camera and went down to see if I could get a photo.
It happened that the former Fire Commissioner, Robert Hoff, was still in attendance, talking to some folks near the station office. I waited until those at the speaking area noticed me and asked if I wanted to take a photo or speak with someone, and it happened that a very nice lady took a photo of me with Mr. Hoff and I had the chance to speak briefly with him.
He left me with a favorable impression that told me, “Thank goodness he and others as he were and are firefighters in Chicago and across this great country. One of the last things he said left me thinking, and that was, “Take care of the troops.” That is how he grew up, he said, and his is a family of firefighters. He knows Dan down at Engine Company 84 as well, and that fine gentleman is also from a family of firefighters.
Brave folks such as these give their lives every year to serve the good people of this city.
Mr. Hoff was most kind, generous, and courteous, and I am sure the incoming Commissioner will be the same, and that everyone will be able to approach and talk with him as easily as I was able to do today. My photo of him might not turn out (I may have moved too quickly); but even if it does not, well, it is safe to say the photographic memory will remain… of a man in a pristine navy blue dress uniform with gold braid, polished emblems, and his badge, but through and through a rank-and-file fireman. He spoke as one of the troops, in such a way that deep down, were he able or willing to do so, he would be right back with the company at that house, serving on a truck or engine, putting on the turnout coat, boots, helmet, gloves and breathing mask.
He would be as my cousin in Houston, right back in the thick of it, were he able to do so, right back saving people’s lives, freeing them from crashed cars, burning houses and offices buildings and refineries and warehouses. Right there at the front lines with burning embers, bricks, hot ash, shredded wood and glass coming down around them, there would Billy and Bob be with their hoses, axes, and H-bars.
It would be nice if one of those august and brave men would run for public office… and win, too. Some of them think they might not win if they ran, but believe it, I would drop everything to work for a fireman’s campaign. I know from meeting them that any of them would make fine officials. For one thing, they would not waste time, they would know how to properly allocate resources and would have that teamwork attitude that is missing in Congress and throughout the official halls of this nation.
We need men such as you on the firefighting lines, in the rank and file, in the offices to make sure everything is as it oughto be, by the book as it were. But we need you in national office too, in order that this country might be really united, stronger and better governed. Someday, maybe one of you excellent firefighters will try for it, taking the principles of being a firefighter with you into the campaign ring. Who knows how many lives you will save, how many fires you will put out in someone’s heart or soul, someone hurting from too many years of dealing with politicians who do not care about them. But you would, I know it, and that is why we need you in office.
Thank you, Commissioner Hoff for your service, and welcome to the new Fire Commissioner, former OEMC official Jose Santiago.
Divi Logan and EDUSHIRTS, Nashville and Chicago, 2004 – 2012.