As I shared recently, I spent nearly one year in 1979-80 on something akin to a hotshot crew with the US Forest Service. I learned something Saturday night that I'm certain I wasn't aware of then. It came from an article that talks about a procession of the 19 dead firefighters that made its way through Prescott, Arizona yesterday.
Since their fellow firefighters arrived at the scene where they were killed, the fallen firefighters have not been alone, a tradition among those in the profession in the U.S.
"Since they were discovered, they have never been out of the presence of a brother firefighter," said Paul Bourgeois, a Phoenix-area fire chief who is acting as a spokesman in Prescott for the firefighters' families. "From the time they were taken to the medical examiner in Phoenix, while they're at the medical examiner's office, when they are received in a funeral home, there will always be a brother firefighter on site with them until they are interred.
"That's something people don't realize. We never leave your side," he said of the tradition. "It's a comfort to the survivors, whether they're families or fellow firefighters."
To be honest, I don't understand how this tradition could provide "comfort to the survivors." As sad as the whole situation is, these 19 men are dead. They certainly don't care if a brother or sister firefighter is there or not. So, why should it matter to the survivors?
I mean, regardless of how one views spirituality, the spirit, essence, soul or biological identity of these fallen men is no longer in the bodies that hosted them. It's sort of like a car in which the motor and battery have been pulled out of. It is just a shell of what it once was.
Oh, I suppose there is a kind of symbolism here that might speak to some folks, but I can't pretend to understand it. It would make a lot more sense if the tradition entailed staying with a fellow firefighter who was injured or dying. That would provide the fallen firefighter and their loved ones with a measure of comfort...or so it seems to me.