Monica Bielanko
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It's What They Do

Violet was right where that large pile of rubble is when I found her standing near the flames.

One of the first things firefighters did upon entering our house was attempt to throw tarps on everything they could see. I thought this was amazing. When I expressed my incredulity to the chief he said that their top priority, aside from, of course, getting people out safely and fighting the fire, is saving people's possessions.

The thought of these burly-ass firefighters taking the time to throw down tarps in an attempt to protect our stuff from smoke and water damage reduced me to tears. Working in the news industry for more than a decade, I've seen my fair share of devastating house fires. But my vision of what went down in each home was only limited to what ultimately aired on television, and of course, that was the flames and the charred remains because that makes for good TV. Good television is not someone's unburned belongings kept safe from water damage by tarps that firefighters hastily flung down while fighting flames.

I guess the movies made me believe firefighters are mostly destructive; you know, crashing through windows, hacking through walls and using furniture to bash through doors - whatever it takes to fight fire, you know? But they aren't like that at all. They are thoughtful in the midst of the chaotic dance they are performing to try and save whatever structure is aflame. And it was like that, like a dance. Each player knew his part and performed it well. Had you set their firefighting performance to some sort of classical piece of music people would pay good money to watch. It would at least be as good as any Broadway number.

Organized chaos, the chief told me when I expressed admiration. The chief, by the way, stayed with me as I toured the blackened ruins of our second floor, excitedly pointing out certain items they were able to save. I was so touched that he seemed so personally pleased to have been able to save a picture here, a dresser there.

Firefighters have always been considered heroes, but mostly for those overtly heroic acts; hoisting someone down a ladder to safety, catching a child tossed from a window, bravely storming up staircases to the twin towers against a flood of panicked, fleeing people... But this thing I learned about them that day, the fact that they strive not only to save people in peril and fight the fire, but that they try their very hardest to save your personal items and it is important to them... Well, that chief, and the obvious pleasure he displayed in pointing out certain belongings of ours that made it through the fire, that will stick with me until the day I die.

Reader Comments (18)

Chillbumps and tears ensued while reading...all at different times throughout. That is amazing and touching that they cared enough to save some of your belongings. I was looking back in Flickr at some of the things you recently wrote about and was wondering...was the beautiful aqua dresser salvaged? That was such a cool piece.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

This is a very touching post. And, something I, too, did not know about. Thank you for taking the time to thank these brave men and helping the rest of us realize they are hero's in more ways than one.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I have a friend who had a kitchen fire and the firefighters removed and saved all the artwork from the fridge for them.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

@Becca - That is pure awesome.

January 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterMonica

My dad was a volunteer fireman here in our small town. He was pretty much a shit human being, but he was a damn good firefighter! I remember when the house of a girl from my school burned down, he made sure to grab a stuffed animal from each of the kids' rooms so they'd have SOMETHING from "home" wherever they ended up!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteryotko

As a firefighter's wife, I thank you for this post. I wish you didn't know... I wish you hadn't lost... but I'm glad you took the time to share with others.

Thinking of you and yours.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFireMom

That's lovely and something I never knew either. Thanks. And ps: for all the crap I gave you about getting health insurance I didn't have renter's insurance. Your experience made me realize how important it is and I'll bet I'm not the only person who may benefit/learn something that saves them from pain or damage or loss because you shared what you went through.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE.

Wow, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing this, it will add another layer of appreciation when I see a firefighter (first on the list of course, being their usually cute behinds!).

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreenInOC

As the wife of a former firefighter this brought sobs out of me. Thanks to the economy, he can't be that person anymore, but he so desperately fought to bring hope to those who were in pain. I am so glad that they took the time to save what they could as best they could, it goes to show that you have a great Fire Company where you live.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSUPAHMAMA

A number of years ago my husband I were sitting next to two firefighters at a restaurant's bar. We started to talk and without giving any thought to my actions, I got up, went over to them, and gave each a big hug as I simply said, "Thank you for all that you do." I'm usually not that spontaneous a person and now, having read what you've just posted, I'm so glad I acted without thinking.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarole

I cried. This is so amazing. Thank you.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

What an incredible thing to do in the face of such danger. Heroic on so many levels, you are right. Beautiful post. So sorry you had to learn these things, but so happy you had such thoughtful teachers.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (The818)

Wow FireMom, I agree with what you posted 100%

Monica, did you have renters insurance then, like E said? I must of missed that! If so, I am so glad you did.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersaz

@saz - I hesitate to answer that question because I've taken enough shit on the internet about insurance, health and otherwise, but no, I did not have renter's insurance. At one point I had Geico on the phone to add it to my car insurance for only a couple more bucks a month but got transferred so damn much I hung up and had it on my To Do List to call back. Ain't that some shit?

Be ye not so stupid. GET RENTERS INSURANCE.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

Beautiful post, brought tears to my eyes.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharity

What a thoughtful post. I'm so glad that you took the time in the midst of all this to thank those firefighters. This brought tears to my eyes.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJ

To clarify, I was trying to say that in Monica sharing her harrowing house fire story, which included not having renters insurance, I learned how essential it is.. And that it's easy to tell someone to get something like health insurance (which I previously did and still do stand by) but I am just as guilty as the next person of not having everything I "should" taken care of, thus having a better understanding of how it may have felt like an unnecessary judgment to her. Mea Culpa and all that jazz.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE.

Thanks for writing this Monica, it brought tears to my eyes - and the comments were just as heartfelt. Refrigerator art? Stuffed animals? Sometimes it's easy to forget that these big, burly brave men are gentle souls with hearts of gold. They have children, and families, and homes of their own - they understand more than anyone the devastation fire can wreak upon lives and they do their best to mitigate it. Bless them all for their courage and kindness in the worst of times.

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkimtisha

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