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.
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