Did you know that this week we celebrated International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD)? Yesterday, the 4th of May to be exact. It’s the day we globally honour those who dedicate their lives to the protection of life and property.

It’s every little boy’s (or girl’s) dream – isn’t it? To be a firefighter and ride around in the big red fire engine. But this career, this calling, is more than that.

To be a firefighter means that you purposefully risk your life fighting an enemy that sometimes cannot be beaten. It is a fickle beast that can spark or creep up at you at any time. It is unpredictable. It is violent. Sometimes you win. And sometimes you don’t. Firefighters are true heroes who are hugely underestimated and unappreciated.

International Firefighter’s Day is a relatively new concept – originating in 1999, when five fire fighters died under tragic circumstances in a wildfire in Australia. The date 4th of May was chosen as traditionally it is known as the day of St Florian: believed to be the first recorded commander of a fire fighting squadron in the Roman province of Noricum in 300AD. Legend has it that Florian saved the whole village from burning with a single bucket of water – earning him the honour of being the protector of those in danger of fire.

But, it was 9/11 that highlighted the complete selflessness of firefighters. It took two hours, from the time the first plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre until they crumbled into rubble. And during that time, New York’s finest stormed the building trying frantically to rescue as many people as they could.

It had started as a normal day for those who worked, who visited, who frequented the towers. They did not choose to be there. They did not choose to die. But the members of FDNY willing and selflessly entered the buildings to rescue as many people as they could. It is believed that around 14 000 people were in the towers that day – most of whom managed to get out or were rescued, but of those 2 605 people who died, 343 were firefighters, men and women who offered the ultimate sacrifice. And the honour of this humble occupation became known.

Having been touched in my own life by this raging beast, having witnessed first hand what devastation a fire can cause, having seen what a fire does to the tender human body, having experienced how fire can steal lives far too soon – I salute those who knowingly and willingly risk this everyday for complete strangers. I salute their partners and their friends. Because it takes something special, something amazing to have this strength of body and mind.

It is these men and women we celebrate, not just on one official day, but everyday – these our true heroes.

Source: Longevity, South Africa