04 July, 2005

Imagine this: you are standing in the street, watching the flames lick up the sides of the house, thankful that your family is safe, but faced with the contradictory feeling of helplessness as the rest of your life goes up in flames, you watch your house burn.
Suddenly the blaring of sirens rises out of the darkness and the engine comes screaming down the street like shiny red cavalry.  It comes screeching to a halt and the firemen pour out of it, each intent upon their particular task.  One man runs out a short hose from the truck to a nearby fire hydrant, while another pair roll out the longer hose toward the house.  A very large man, obviously in charge, quickly assesses the situation.  He asks if there is anyone else inside.  He reassures you that the situation is under control and issues adjusting orders to his men.
The Kansas City Fire Department consists of ladder companies, heavy rescue companies, hazardous materials companies, and arson investigators.  The emergency medical technicians are now civilian contractors and are not run through the fire department.  The ladder companies, named for the familiar extending ladder used to reach tall buildings, are also called pumper companies.  They are the actual firefighters.
The heavy rescue team, which performs search and rescue, vehicular extraction, and occasionally gets kittens out of trees, stands down as the pumper team springs into action.  They plunge into the burning building, seemingly oblivious to danger as they risk their lives to save what is left of your property.  You might call them heroes, but they consider themselves ordinary men just doing their job.
Their job, however, does not seem to have the financial rewards commensurate to the risks that they incur.