When One of Us Falls Down

Did you know who the procession was for last Friday?  Did you hear the drums beat, the pipes calling, take note or shroud your badge?  No?  Not the usual coverage, I agree.  A slightly more subdued affair.  Still I would have liked to have known.

This past Friday, the New York Fire Department members gathered to lay to rest one of their own. Lt. John A. Garcia, 51 years old. He was retired now, since 2009, a 23 year veteran. Lt. Garcia was yet another victim of the September 11th Attack. As many of you reading this may know, he wasnt’ killed in the attack on the Trade Center Towers, he is a victim of the aftermath. It could be argued that he was a casualty of the Deutsche Bank Fire in August of 2007. After all, the Deutsche Bank Fire was a direct result of 9/11. The 41 story building had to be torn down due to structural damage in the 2001 attack. The fire in 2007 however, had more to do with contractor issues than with the 9/11 attack. Two firefighters died as a result and John Garcia was their leader. He lived through the fire at the Deutsche Bank, but fell by his own hand, a week ago this Friday. Guilt, they say. Pain. 

A rare moment in the camera as a secondary collapse begins to take the life of Engine 3's John C. Hough while he is working to free another brother. Gray Bldg. Fire, L. A. 1939 - Photographer unknown. Used with permission, LAFire.com

It’s important that we pay attention and pay tribute to Lt. Garcia’s passing. Every time a brother goes down we should take note. I try to anyway. It takes courage to do what we do. It takes valor, fortitude, self-sacrifice, character. Even in the back country byways and small towns across our nation, it takes these traits to do what we have pledged ourselves to.  I write about these things because I believe in their value and I believe in our value to society.

So when one of us falls down, for any reason, we should take note. These traits are the finest that men can put forth. These traits are the mark of men and women in our profession. Because of this, Lt. Garcia’s burden is one we should all be willing to bear, though doubtless, he probably would not have shifted the burden to our shoulders willingly. His loss, illustrates for us, the price we pay for our service.  At any moment in your tour, in spite of every precaution, the very worst can happen.  And it can happen to any one of us.  It may take the man next to you, and leave you unscathed.  When I think about the burden Lt. Garcia felt, I think how incredibly heavy the 9/11 burden must have felt to all who were there that day.  The loss of your brothers is bad enough, but the loss of those you lead into battle leaves you looking at your soul..and wondering why you lived when they didn’t, why you couldn’t save them, and why you have a right to live.

Marking Lt. Garcia’s death isn’t necessarily going to save anyone.  EGH is a great attitude and endeavor, and I am on board with it, but I don’t believe it is possible to prevent every death.  Yes, we can try to reduce the death toll, and I actively do.  Every day I’m on duty and frequently on my own time, I am working in that direction for my own crew, my own department, my own town.  But I don’t believe we will always win.  There are too many hazards, to many possibilities and too many factors working against us.  We keep the shield up in hopes that we will deflect the fatal blow, but there are moments when the Eternal Father allows the spear to penetrate, for His own divine purposes.  And that is what we must remember.  Even when we fall down, all things are under His control. 

Still, I do not take these things with a fatalistic attitude.  I grasp at every second in split-second moments in front of the dark door, thinking through every decision based on the safety of my company and whether the risk is worth the endeavor.  Just like every officer must do.  I do not want to lose someone who has been entrusted to me, someone that I have to lead into the fight.   Let it not be through a lack of training, skill or understanding.   Especially when no one’s life is left to be saved other than our own.  We must continue to learn from our fallen brothers, even when it happens at home, alone.  Strive to teach the young ones so that they will understand that we are not supermen, but flesh and blood, and bone and sinew.  And imperfect.  We make mistakes, so let us work towards perfection so that we can do our part, and then let the Father do His.  And then perhaps you and I will be ready for what confronts us.

I have nothing but heartfelt sorrow for Lt. Garcia.  Some burdens will crush you.  I am thankful to the Heavenly Father  for every shift that ends with every life accounted for.  Some things are not within our control and never will be.  So I will remember Lt. John Garcia for twenty-three years of service.  RFB.

“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly, Sing the dead march as you carry me along”                                                              – Streets of Laredo, Marty Robbins

6 Comments

  • Nate DeMarse says:

    Nicely done brother. I worked with John for several years in Engine 68 before his promotion to Lieutenant.

    Very well written, and an outstanding message overall.

    Respectfully,

    Nate DeMarse

    • Nate, I appreciate your comments. I felt like I was going on a limb here, hoping those who knew John and his circumstances might not object to the focus, but I felt very strongly about the reasons for John’s choice. Knowing it was communicated the way it was intended and had a positive impact does give me great satisfaction.

      Leatherly,

      Ben Fleagle

  • Jeff Schwering says:

    I never knew LT. Garcia, but, I know many like him. Sunday, my LT. called me to tell me that one of our retired members, 41, had taken their own life. I worked with this individual from appointment in 2000 to retirement in 2010. Some good times, other times not good at all. What brought out what happened, I will probably never know. I will as Ben stated, remember her, as my probie, when I was a Lieutenant and a troubled member that wouldn’t accept help, when I was her Captain. All of us need to pay more attention to one another and maybe we’ll be able to catch the next member before they fall.

    Be well
    Jeff

    • Well said, brother Jeff. I think many of us have been on incidents that have adversely affected us. I know that my own career has been drastically shaped by what I experienced as a young fireman, changing my whole outlook. I know several other officers and firefighters that have had similar experiences. Unfortunately, for some those experiences are so dramatic, that reasoning, empathy and compassion fail to bring them back into a healthy view of things, and CISD doesn’t always strike home like it is intended to. We do a difficult job. How can you tell someone whose crew is gone, “its okay”..You can’t. I know that if I came home and my company didn’t, I would struggle as well. The burden can be so heavy for those who have walked in John’s shoes. So, I try to remind myself that I can’t prevent every shot. Can’t control every possible safety issue. I am one man, I will fail at some point, so its gotta be a team thing. It takes all eyes, not just the officer. I have a team at home that needs me every bit as much as the brothers in the firehouse, if not more so. If I can’t survive the call aftermath, what good will I be to my children and my wife.

      Thanks for you thoughts, Jeff.

      FTM-PTB-RFB

  • what a touching blog, i feel humbled reading

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