Firefighters: Keeping You From Making The Headline

The Kansas/Oklahoma wildfire gained national attention as the largest wildfire in history for the area. News stations nationwide have kept the country up-to-date on the acres burned and estimated losses.

By the time this prints, the fires will probably be contained.  The Washington Post will likely not report on any Kansas-related events for months to come.  The wildfires will be all but forgotten by most of the country.

The irony of this, is that the very men containing the fires and saving homes are working to keep this event as un-newsworthy as possible.  They don’t want us to be able to report deaths, loss of cattle, and millions of burned acres.  They are working around the clock to prevent as much damage as they can.  They want these fires to gain as little news coverage as possible.firefighter 3

For this, they deserve front page recognition.
I had the honor of interviewing a community of volunteer firefighters from across the country.  I asked them to enlighten me on the hardest and most rewarding part of their jobs.  These were their answers:

Waking up at 2am to go help someone when you have to be at work at 6.  You leave your family during a birthday party for a structure fire, or respond to a call about a heart attack during Christmas.  Going to a call on Thanksgiving to a family who just lost a loved one.  It’s tough, but I love it.- Aaron

The hardest is going on a call only to find someone you care about.  The rewarding part is everything else; being a part of a great crew, and accomplishing what needs to be done.- Mary Ann

My husband and I are both volunteers.  We have two small kids.  It’s hard getting up in the middle of the night and taking them to our Cheif’s wife so we can respond.  We have missed family gatherings, birthday parties, and many other events, but we do it because we love it and want to help our community.- Adriana

There are many things that are hard, including knowing many people on the calls you attend, and not being able to save them all.  It’s also hard organizing work, family, and calls and training.  But, the benefits are many; satisfaction in serving the community, and pride in the recognition you do get.- Jordie

The hardest part is looking in the eyes of your brother or sister and trying to comfort them as everything they hold dear in life has gone up in smoke, and they pray their family made it out in time.  It’s hard knowing you gave your best, but sometimes it’s not good enough.  The most rewarding thing is the family you have anywhere in the world just by belonging to the thin red line.  And knowing when you see that the life you changed is not only your own, but everyone you have come in contact with.  Children have parents because of you.  Families can return home.  Those are the moments that make this job great.- Cassandra

It’s hard.  They are fighting fires with one hand, while the town and the homes are burning, and with the other hand they’re texting their wives and telling them to get out of town.  Many lose their own home while trying to save others.- Magdalene

The hardest part is leaving your family, and not knowing if you’re coming back.  The rewarding part is knowing that you may be helping someone else see their family again, and they might not have if you hadn’t gone that night.- Robby

The hardest part is not knowing what you’re ever walking into.  The most rewarding is seeing lives you’ve saved or comforted after the call is closed.- Ryan

Hardest part is when the whole crew doesn’t return.  We all go knowing we may not make it back, and it can happen at any time.  The most rewarding part is knowing and feeling the support from anywhere in the world.  The brotherhood is one strong community.- Jeff

Sometimes, there’s nothing we can do to save someone/something, no matter how trained, fast, or ready we are.  The most rewarding is kids’ reactions when they see me driving the trucks.  Pure awe, wonder, and excitement.  So yeah, smiles are the most rewarding.- Brian

You wake up at 1am to save someone’s house before work.  Walk into a medical call and see a child unresponsive, and doing everything you can, but not being able to save them.  Never knowing if this call will be your last.  The most rewarding thing is being able to have a relationship with the community you protect.  They know if they call, someone will always show up.  That is part of what drives a volunteer.  It’s not about money or fame, it’s about people.- Cory

The hard part is lack of understanding or respect from the people you bend over backwards trying to serve and protect.  You leave your kids birthday party to go to a house fire, and they want to know why you weren’t there sooner.  You get to a wreck, and there’s an injured child with two dead parents in the front seat.  But, it only becomes hard if you let it.  You have to retain compassion.- Terry

We are sometimes called adrenaline junkies, but we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters that live to help others.  When fighting wildfires, we pray for the families, farms, and ranches that are in harm’s way.  It could be our place next time.- Rhonda

I live to serve my community.- Tim

The hardest part is leaving my family. The most rewarding is coming home.- Tyler

The hardest are the ones you can’t save.- Tyler

Being in a small town, the hardest is knowing 99.99% of the calls involve people you grew up with.- Todd

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These men and women risk their lives to help others.  They miss their son’s basketball game, or their daughter’s dance recital to save someone’s home.  They drag themselves out of bed at midnight to make sure other people’s families live to see tomorrow.

They give up a part of their life to keep us out of the news.

For that, on behalf of the community, we would like to say Thank You.

*Published in the Minneapolis Messenger of Minneapolis, KS.

(Online newspaper is not available)


Hardships Of Ottawa County

My most recent article, published in the Minneapolis Messenger, of Minneapolis, KS.

You have it rough.  Whoever you are, and whatever your life consists of, I’m willing to bet you’ve got a mental marquee of less-than-perfect present situations.   

Be it your children, your spouse, your house, your car, your job, your boss, your bank account, or your second cousin twice-removed, something is stressing you out.  Living in a small town can either add to, or help relieve the pressures of life.  We have the fortunate ability to tap into the local grapevine, and gather first-hand knowledge of our neighbors’ struggles.   

Ottawa County has a history of using that very ability to pull together and strengthen our community.  Our past is rich with stories of families who traveled hundreds of miles, and braved many adversities, to settle in this very section of our country.  Their hardships, and their neighbors’ willingness to help overcome them, is what built communities out of diverse settlers. 

The following stories represent a mere fraction of the misfortune our ancestors faced, and the generosity displayed by others in their time of need.   

October 13th,1868-    This date marks the worst Indian raid in Ottawa County history.  While most settlers and tribes were able to live peacefully together, this specific raid was reportedly premeditated and violent.   

Over the course of several days, multiple Indian parties attacked different homesteads across the county.  A Mr. Smith, and his son, Alex, were breaking ground near their home.  Alex took an arrow to the chest, and his father was left for dead with a slit throat.  Alex was found three days later, after having crawled nearly a half mile to find water.  His father was found the day after the attack in his home, after crawling to release the oxen from their yoke, and finally settling in a corncrib.   

Alex’s brother, after finding his families’ bodies, helped the Hardy family escape across the river and on into Minneapolis.  He returned to his home to find all of his possessions destroyed, but his wife and children safely hidden in the woods.   

The Hardy family continued on into Minneapolis, and stopped by a shop owned by Pl Markley.  He had given the order that anyone seeking refuge from the Indians be given something to eat.  The family receive crushed wheat, and baked it over a fire on the end of a spade.   

Summer 1866-    A certain Mrs. Emily Harrison arrived in Ottawa County, and took up residence with her nephew.  She brought all of her earthly luxuries, which were promptly ruined after their mud roof dissolved under a heavy rain.  She spent the next three days cooking under the shelter of her nephew’s umbrella.   

The following summer, Mrs. Harrison relocated to a cabin on the Saline River.  Shortly after her move, the river flooded, and she spent the night on her roof.  After a futile attempt to cross the river, and her subsequent rescue, she became well-acquainted with her neighbors on the other side, who discovered she was an army nurse.   

Mrs. Harrison returned to her soggy cabin.  She was unsure whether or not she would stay in Kansas after all her troubles.  However, as word of her rescue spread, so did her reputation as an army nurse.     

After learning that there was no doctor in Ottawa County, Mrs. Harrison determined to stay despite her unfortunate events.  She lived out her life attending to various medical needs throughout the  county.   

Winter 1869-    The settlers in Ottawa County had become destitute over the winter.  Several people were on the verge of starvation, and others were dying due to exposure and lack of proper clothing.  Mary Bickerdyke, or “Mother”, served as an army nurse in the Civil War.  Upon an inspection in Solomon Valley, she requisitioned blankets, clothing, meat, flour, peas, and other goods through the army.   

Later that spring, she brought in several loads of seed potatoes, corn, and grain so the people could replant their fields and feed their livestock.     

Although many of her acts of kindness were not recorded, there are plentiful accounts of the great debt of gratitude owed to Mary Bickerdyke by the people of Kansas.       

There are many other accounts of self-sacrifice and generosity in our county’s history.  These simply highlight the character and genuine compassion of those who came before us.  During a time where everyone had a reason to forget their neighbor, and focus on their own troubles, the community decided to come together and help.    

We are blessed with the unique opportunity in a small town to know and understand our neighbors’ circumstances; for better or worse.  It’s easy to judge your neighbor for their predicament; it’s much harder to emulate our predecessors and lend a hand.  The only difference between Ottawa County 1868, and Ottawa County 2016, is that we have flat tires, instead of broken wagon wheels.