Thursday, July 19, 2007

How to Honor Fallen Fire Fighters

In June, nine firemen in Charleston, SC died fighting a blaze that destroyed a furniture store. Immediately, the Mayor and other city officials said that the city was going to purchase the store site, at market rates, and build a memorial park there. The following are some thoughts about that suggestion.

It goes without saying that everyone in Charleston mourns the loss of the nine brave fire fighters and desires to memorialize them appropriately. The suggestion, however, that the site of the fire should be converted to a memorial park because it is sacred ground, which it certainly is, seems to me to be a thought that would come from those who have been in government too long. While applauding the motives of our city officials, implicit in this idea is the (probably unconscious) thought that continuing to do business and make a profit on this site would somehow sully it and the firemen’s memory.

Business and commerce are the life blood of our city and it was a business that these men died protecting. It seems to me that using public funds to buy a commercial location and remove it from active commerce denigrates what these men did and what their remaining colleagues continue to do. It also sends a subliminal message that a site of commerce is not suitable as a memorial. However, business is a noble enterprise. It is from businesses that we get our medicine, clothes, food and other necessities of life. When we need a place to eat or spend the night it is total strangers engaged in commerce who fill our needs. It matters not that the providers’ motives may be their own self interest, we get served just the same. This is the genius of our capitalistic system. To suggest, even indirectly, that these activities should not continue at the site of the tragedy is to misunderstand both the nature of man and our society.

Meaning in no way to lessen what our fire fighters do for us, for they are indispensable in our community, those who take huge risks to start businesses that satisfy our needs and wants; fill our tax coffers; and create the jobs upon which our society depends are heroes also. Our fire fighters know this - that is why they fight so valiantly to protect our businesses.

So, a modest proposal – first, let’s build a memorial in a fitting public place. Additionally, let’s honor the sacrifice of those nine heroes by keeping commerce flowing in what is a commercial site in the middle of a commercial area. Yes, make sure a suitable plaque is installed on the new building that is constructed on that site; but let’s honor the fire fighter’s memory everyday by having everyday people honorably going about the business of delivering goods and services to our community. In that way the community will continue to reap the benefits of commerce, which those nine gave their lives to try and save. That would be a truly lasting tribute.

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