When you hear the fire whistle blow, take pause and remember: there for the grace of God go they.
Those men and women who comprise the ranks of Platteville’s finest group of volunteers, the Platteville Fire Department. These friends and neighbors who selflessly dedicate themselves to respond to whatever disaster or devastation life may invoke.
The fire whistle’s call to action does not take into account convenience. Sit-down Sunday dinner with the family? Got to go! Last quarter of an exciting Packer game? Out the door! Just snuggling into bed on a subzero night? Sorry, dear! The list is endless and yet the firefighter perseveres.
What makes a person jeopardize their life, job, one’s health and or sanity for the beckoning howl of a fire alarm? The same question could be asked of the police and EMTs, for I doubt they do what they do solely for a pay check.
Maybe I’m more conscious of the fire alarm. Especially when my phone rings shortly after the whistle ends. I have seen these first responders in action working as a well-coordinated unit as they adjust with split-second decisions relying on countless hours of training to combat the unpredictable. Each time I walk away with a renewed sense of pride and gratitude for what they mean to this community.
My most recent encounter happened in the early morning fire downtown on Memorial Day weekend. More than 12 hours later they were still in the heat, making sure things were stabilized and that further damage would not ensue. Ironic, it is on a day we remember those who died protecting our way of life that these unpaid volunteers spent the day protecting lives and property.
I don’t have an answer why individuals join the Fire Department. Some have given 10, 20, 30, 40 or more years of service. Thousands of stress-filled life interruptions. Risking their own lives, not for money, certainly not for fame or even gratitude, although all is deserved.
Maybe it’s for different reasons. To carry on a family tradition, or for the intrigue of pitting one’s skill against a difficult and dangerous scenario. It may be as simple as a strong desire to give back to society.
Whatever the reason, there seems to be one undeniable characteristic. The camaraderie between firefighters runs deep. As I said before, they work together as a unit protecting each other’s back while they forge ahead to quell the danger at hand. Maybe that’s why they sacrifice so much knowing failure to answer the alarm may put the other firefighters at risk. The shared experiences from gut-wrenching horror to pure exhilaration weld this group together forming a bond that is unmistakable.
The honor and respect within this group continues beyond the last service call. For when a firefighter’s last day on Earth comes to an end, the Platteville Fire Department responds, dressed in blue, white gloved, to salute their compatriot with a solemn farewell. A ceremony with heartfelt elegance befitting one who has proven to be a cut above, for they are Platteville’s finest.
Dedicated in memory of Platteville firefighters David P. McWilliams and Wendell Rice.