By Jonathan Tracy
I became a firefighter because of the tragic events on September 11th, 2001. It’s a trope, I know, but that was the day I decided I would never be a victim. I was fresh out of high school, and I distinctly remember watching with horror as brave firemen rushed into those towers, only to perish as they tried to save lives. I watched hundreds of people, dazed and in shock, as they waited for help to come. I made a decision that day that in the future, regardless of circumstances, I would not be one of those shell shocked masses. I decided that I would not wait for help, but that I would be the help . . .
I started with a neighborhood CERT class that taught me basic first aid and disaster preparedness. It was eye opening, but I still felt like there was more I could do. I then joined my town’s volunteer fire department, working hard to learn the ropes, gain experience, and help wherever I could. Today I’m a Fire Service Instructor, and I take great pride in teaching some of the skills I took so long to learn myself. I thought that being a first responder had prepared me to be a source of aid, rather than a victim; and it did.
Until December 14th, 2012. That was the day a twisted, broken young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in my home state of Connecticut and opened fire. I remember the scanner radio traffic going crazy all day as police, fire, and EMS personnel scrambled to make sense of the scene. I felt the same panic that I had on 9/11; that realization that there were circumstances far beyond my control. That any day, any place, any of us could be a victim. That no matter what I knew about firefighting, I was simply unprepared to deal with individuals like Adam Lanza. And that was the day I decided to carry a gun.
I’ve been a concealed carrier for years now, and every once in awhile a friend or relative will ask how I reconcile being a first responder with carrying a tool of destruction on my hip. The simple answer is, being a fireman and carrying a gun are two sides of the same coin. I’ve made a conscious choice to be the help, rather than the victim.
I train at the firehouse like I train at the range; with the intention of having all the skills I can muster at my disposal to keep myself safe, and to help the public. That might mean pushing into a working fire, or it could mean putting the first shot into an active shooter. I pray often that those things don’t happen, but the whole point of being a firefighter (for me, at least) is to know what to do when that bad day might roll around. I’m no sheepdog, but I am a first responder. One day you might be, too.
So I encourage you to make the same choice; to be the help, instead of waiting for help. That could be as simple as taking a first aid class, or learning basic self defense. Not everyone fights fires, and not everyone carries a gun. But I do. I choose to try to save lives and help others in whatever manner I can, and I encourage you to choose that mindset as well.