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From the Editor: A gratitude that cannot be expressed enough

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
11:16 am PDT September 8, 2017

Our everyday heroes are not thanked and recognized often enough. Of that, I am certain.

Though, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike Henry did note that Malibu sure does love its firefighters. And they certainly should. 

With brush fires, canyon rollovers and plenty more hazards, Malibu keeps the fire service quite busy. 

At Malibu’s Town Hall meeting on fire preparedness earlier this year, LA County Fire Department’s Anthony Williams highlighted 16 “significant” fires that have occurred from 1938 to 2007 in the Santa Monica Mountains. Malibuites likely don’t need to be reminded of the very real risk each of these fires pose, as many have seen their homes impacted or at risk of being impacted. 

But what may be forgotten from time to time is that the men and women with boots on the ground are not immune to the danger, either. 

I’ll be the first to admit it. 

I’m the granddaughter of an Army veteran who became a state cop. I’m also the granddaughter of a Navy veteran, though I didn’t get the chance to know him as well as I would have liked as my dad’s dad died when I was very young. 

My mom’s dad was the state cop, and the only story I know of his service is the one when he was shot in the line of duty while pursuing a suspect. I only know that story through my mom, who had to hear the news of her own father being in the hospital on TV. He survived that shooting and passed many years later in 2003. 

At home, my grandpa was a golfer, a poker player and a family man who always had a good joke and a kind twinkle in his eye. 

While I always knew he was a cop, I didn’t know the first thing about the kinds of dangers he faced every day on the job. I also have absolutely no idea what Sept. 11 was like from his point of view. He wasn’t anywhere near the World Trade Center that day, but I’m sure the impact was profound for every serviceman and servicewoman throughout the world.

I’ll chalk part of my obliviousness up to me being just 14 when my grandpa passed, but, no matter how close we are to a first responder or veteran, I’m not sure any of us can truly understand the courage these men and women have, nor the struggles that come along with those guts. 

We think about the risks that these men and women face on the scene of an accident or fire. But we forget that the weight is not lifted when they leave that scene, even if the event has a successful result.

Imagine the macabre scenes that the general public often only has to see on TV or from a safe distance. We can look away. First responders do not have that option.

Henry, who I spoke with this past week in regard to his organization’s Sept. 11 concert (Page 4), called firefighters “an Americana brand.” He also noted that they are one of the few who help others “out of pure humanity.”

We know there are a lot of good people out there who are not firefighters, who have pure hearts in other ways, but I agree with Henry that the humanity of a firefighter — someone who willingly puts their life on the line for strangers each and every day — is second to none. 

But everyone has a breaking point, and, as Henry also noted, suicide among firefighters is all too common.

The data I included in the Page 4 story bears repeating. This year alone, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance has recorded 59 suicide deaths in the United States. In comparison, the U.S. Fire Administration reports that there have been 65 on-duty deaths to firefighters in the U.S. in 2017. 

Henry also shared that he knew four firefighters who had committed suicide in the past several months. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fire Administration has seven on-duty firefighter deaths in the state of California this year (with two of those individuals, Kelly Wong and Jerome Boyd, being with the Los Angeles Fire Department). 

Sept. 11 is designated as our day to memorialize the brave men and women who selflessly protect us in the most dangerous situations imaginable. And this year, Malibu will have two memorial events that surround Patriots Day. One is the concert and the other is the annual Ride to the Flags, put on by the White Heart Foundation on Sept. 10 (more on that on Page 3). That event will raise funds for U.S. Army Cpl. Zac Gore.

Per usual, Pepperdine will also have its beautiful flag display available for those who would like to visit for a quiet reflection.

However you choose to spend your Patriots Day, don’t forget that we all owe gratitude beyond that one day. 

And to any of our brave first responders who may be reading this, thank you.