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"Why We Serve."

A Prologue

photo by Dave Stock

View the Print Media Version online now to enjoy the complete "Magazine Experience."

 

On the evening of January 7th, publisher Andrea L. "Andy" Hoig and I huddled together in her automobile, while parked in the lot across the street from her business.

 


 

We huddled and shivered, in several layers of clothing, with the heater on high, in an attempt to cope with the sub-zero temperatures and the record wind chill borne by a cutting, swirling, virulent wind that fanned the flames of the three alarm fire that consumed our companys offices.

I am generally pretty hardy when it comes to withstanding extremes, but on this night and on into the long morning hours, there was no refuge from the bitter cold, even layered and sitting in the car. So we did our best to endure the elements as we huddled, shivered, and watched the flames climbing three stories and more into the air. We watched as billowing smoke engulfed an entire 12 blocks square of our neighborhood.

We watched, as members of Omaha's Fire Department labored against incredible extremes to outlast and overcome the flames, the elements, and exhaustion. We looked on as they sent wave after wave of revolving teams against the blaze, each team breaking after about 30 minutes of exposure to wind, water, flame and smoke, only to return and take them on again in relief of the previous crew. 
We watched, we shivered, and we prayed not just for whatever preservation of our business might be possible, but for the courageous, skilled and determined men and women who were fighting to protect it, and to protect the businesses and dwellings nearby - more importantly for the lives associated with and attached to them.

"As staggering as the loss has been, there has also been an element of wonder for those of us who were witnesses during those arduous hours of January 7th and 8th. Wonder and honor."

-Rob Killmer, editor of metroMAGAZINE

At around midnight some of us seriously wondered if the extremes of wind and weather would make it impossible to gain control of the fire. We were genuinely concerned that an entire neighborhood might be subjected to the blaze before the night was through. For those who were witnesses at the time this did not seem as far-fetched as it may in the mere reading. We were witnesses,however. Witnesses to a courageous battle and those who waged it. 

And so we watched as they fought on from around 10 p.m. until after 2 a.m. Sometime shortly after that hour, we retreated to our homes and our warm, soft beds, numbed both by the loss and by the cold, and we slept. We slept, while outside, they continued to endure and to battle well past 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and beyond.

When we arose around 6 a.m. the firefighters were still there, combing through the smoldering, frozen rubble that was the remains of our business and those of our neighbors. As staggering as the loss has been, there has also been an element of wonder for those of us who were witnesses during those arduous hours of January 7th and 8th. Wonder and honor. For the skills that had contained the destruction, and for the dedication and endurance that had conquered the elements.

On that Friday morning, as we spoke with several remaining firefighters, shook their hands, offered our thanks and admiration (along with some hot coffee and some breakfast donated by Baileys) we were still battered by the bitterness of the elements.  Merely walking around in the sub-zero weather in the gray daylight was a challenge, albeit nothing compared to the extremes this group had faced during the preceding 24 hours. Ours was not the only fire in Omaha during that period; they had faced another devastating one before they received the call to respond to ours.

We were moved as we considered the fortitude it took to drag wearily in from a long hard fought battle earlier that day, finally collapse into bed, only to be roused to go back out to "Siberia" at 120th and Pacific and face wind, fire and water once again, while battling severly low pressurized or frozen water lines as they did so. As we departed the scene that morning, we determined to make use of our resources as a publishing house to honor their efforts, and to give others a small glimpse of what we had been witnesses to.

"Until you've been a witness to their efforts in a situation where you're personally invested, its easy to overlook what motivates a firefighter."

-Rob Killmer, editor of metroMAGAZINE

We at metroMAGAZINE believe deeply in something we refer to as the Spirit of Omaha. That spirit is exemplified by service to others.
A service that is often costly and always dedicated; a service that endures and inspires by example. Never have we seen it better personified than it was at 120th &Pacific on the night of January 7th.

This prologue is intended to provide a degree of background for the remainder of this article. The article is not about us, it is about these, our brothers and sisters in Omaha. It is about understanding why these special people choose to serve in the ways they do. We feel that without some sense of what we witnessed, that understanding may be diminished and it is for that reason we share this account with you.

Until you've been a witness to their efforts in a situation where you're personally invested, its easy to overlook what motivates a firefighter. They can easily become icons which we become desensitized to and take for granted. However once youve witnessed the human dimension of what is involved, you begin to appreciate the reality of all that goes with the job. We asked six firefighters who were involved in responding to the fire that destroyed our offices about why they choose to serve. These are the answers they shared with us.

 


 

Click here to read the companion article to this feature, interviews with individual firefighters who helped control the fire at The Bagel Bin.

metroMAGAZINE, SpiritofOmaha.com, Omaha's Finest Event Resource
 

 

Click here to see the KPTM Fox 42 video on metroMAGAZINE's recovery efforts after the fire.

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