My father died when I was 19 years old. He was 44 and after a 5-year battle with Leukemia, he left this earth for……well, whatever you believe is on the other side. Surely, I miss him every day. But this post is not about that. This post is about one of the positive things that came out of his struggle.
Dad was a Philly Firefighter; something he was extremely proud of. Though, it’s possible that I am even more proud of that fact than he was. Imagine what it takes in a man’s (or woman’s) head to think, “hey, there is a fire. Let’s run INTO the building”. I know most people’s initial reaction would be to get away as fast as possible. A fireman’s initial reaction is to get in there and risk their life, just on the off chance that they can same someone elses. A firefighter is a different kind of person.
In comes “brotherhood”.
I always remember how much I loved to get down to 61st and Thompson to see his fellow firefighters and get on them trucks! Ladder 24/Engine 41 proud. During my years growing up, I remember all the events. How they would take turns cooking for each other when they were on downtime. There were basketball games. There was a special needs man named Calvin, who they would let hang with them and treated as their own. That is how I saw the firehouse. A cool place to work, I thought. But it was so much more than that as I came to find out when my family needed the most help.
When he was diagnosed, people came by, the calls started. When he couldn’t do things around the house due to the chemo weakening his strength, Fred would come by with some guys from the station to “fix some holes” or to “touch up some paint”. When he was real sick, they threw benefits, beef and beers. I remember checks (you know the real big ones that they use on the Price is Right) being delivered to the house for my mom with food that the wives made. I remember the one event I attended as the Volpe “spokesperson” because dad was in South Carolina or just too sick (those details are still murky). I wasn’t supposed to know, but I remember the 50/50 being rigged. I remember hearing the conversation between two of the firefighters. It went something like this:
Firefighter conducting the drawing: “Mike, I am going to call your name out as the winner of the 50/50. You are gonna give your 50 back to the family.”
Mike: “You got it.”
That’s how it was.
I am as loyal a dog as you will ever see. Sometimes it burns me (pun intended). I got that from my dad. More specifically, I got that from watching him interact with his brothers. There is something that is to be said about a bond that is drawn through shared suffering. You watch each others’ backs and you save each others’ lives. You fight back-to-back and you cook together. You are there when your brother and his family needs you. No matter what.
I learned a lot by watching these guys. There are too many to name and frankly, some would be embarrassed if I did name them. But I need them ALL to know this. My family is grateful for EVERYTHING that EVERYONE of you did for us. We will never forget it or you. We thank you and we love you.