Steve “Stef” Stefanides
As I write this week’s column, I am very aware of the wonderful celebrations that are ongoing across this great nation of ours. Families, neighbors and friends are celebrating this glorious holiday season. However, as many of you know, I have a background in both the fire service and law enforcement. I cannot help thinking about those we have lost over the last year who have served our communities in Public Safety.
For those who put on the badge each day and leave their families to protect our lives, our loved ones and our property, we find many of their loved ones mourning the loss of sons, daughters, spouses and children. This year alone, we have seen the deaths of 138 officers in the line of duty.
Two have been a result of the ongoing effects of 9/11 and the silent killers that have infected those brave souls who converged on ground zero that fateful day in 2001.
Sixty-two of those losses have been by firearms. It is horrific to think of the violence that has spread throughout our nation and the targeting of our proud public servants in law enforcement. Many of these deaths are the result of specific targeting of those officers in unconscionable acts of violence and cruelty, many of which can only be described as execution of these unsuspecting public servants by cowards that skulked in the shadows.
You can’t help but wonder whether America’s moral compass has been somewhat bent in the last decade or more when you see marchers on the streets of our cities calling outright for violence against law enforcement in the most vulgar terms.
We have also laid to rest 83 firefighters this last year with 16 deaths in July alone. This number only emphasizes the great risk and stress that is associated with that proud profession of men and women which goes back to the time of Benjamin Franklin.
Exposure to deadly gases and toxins, along with prolonged physical exertion, has led to the passing of all too many over the years. As time goes by we have seen the weight of protective gear and equipment rise to the point that many firefighters carry approximately 75 pounds as they proceed into the most challenging and dangerous environments.
Couple that load with extended exposure to rising temperatures within a structure fire and you can understand the extent of the stress placed on an individual.
The exposure to patients that may be carrying deadly infections and communicable diseases that are extremely contagious are some of the other risks they encounter during every shift.
As we gather together each year for these wonderful celebrations, we cast our eyes to the trees in our homes that are so beautifully decorated and the gifts that sit under them. We should remember that somewhere, out in our state and throughout the nation, there are families who will have an empty seat at their table. That seat will never be occupied again and, each year after this, they will always remember the Christmas that might have been had it not been for the sacrifice of their loved one in performance of a duty to serve their community, its residents and visitors.
It is up to us as citizens to insure our moral compass is once again aligned correctly. That is not the responsibility of government, but the responsibility of we, the people. We alone have that obligation, not only to ourselves, but to future generations.
Write yourself a note and put it on your tree this Christmas as a gift for you in the next year. In that note, you should agree to do what is right for the greater good. Set your goals higher and take the time to be involved in moving our society back to the day when being right wasn’t as important as doing what is right.
God bless you all. I wish a safe holiday season for you, our public safety professionals and our men and women in uniform.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com