A Different Sea of Blue

By Michael N. Ciampo

So many of us will never forget who told us about it or what we were doing when we heard about the Sandy Hook School tragedy. For many of us, our thoughts went to the first responders when we saw the news reports and the action unfolding on the television as we stopped what we were doing. Life seemed to come to an abrupt halt that afternoon as we all clamored to hear the news in hopes of hearing that many of the victims would be transported to the hospital and be treated. Unfortunately, that piece of news would never come, much like the events that unfolded on 9-11-01.

A few days after the tragedy, we were sitting in the rig coming back from a run and returning to building inspection when my chauffeur suddenly blurted out, “Oh, no.” I asked if everything was okay; you could see it in his eyes that the news he was about to read from a text wasn’t going to be good. One of the seven-year-old victims of the tragedy was related to three firefighters in our department. Life once again came to an abrupt halt; the pain that was starting to subside after the tragedy was now resurfacing. Immediately, the members of the company wanted to know what they could do as they waited for more information to come in. The day tour went on with the typical runs, and the mood around the firehouse was one of concern as we asked, “What could we do?” There were many suggestions and ideas being tossed around, but none would be followed through on until we had the approval of the family.

We took up from a run, and the text we all clamored to receive was waiting for us as we got back to quarters. There was a request for firefighters to line up outside the church to support the family and the brothers who lost a relative. Mass texts were sent out, and the phones starting ringing with numerous acknowledgments of “I’ll be there.” The wheels were in full motion as the plans began to take shape; we all knew we weren’t trying to come as saviors into a town that was suffering, but we wanted to help and support the family of those of our own. In addition, news surfaced that our “angel” loved firefighters and hoped to become one in the future, just like his relatives.

Lining up on the front walkway of the church on a cold and crisp morning, the sea of blue began to form. At first, it was just a small group of firefighters. Then they appeared in droves. The bagpipers were also there and tuning up on the side of the church, the sounds of the pipes giving you more chills then the cool breeze that was starting to blow. The formation, now hundreds of firefighters strong, spread on both sides of the long driveway as the procession entered and bagpipes played. At the door to the church, our brothers awaited their relative’s arrival. One couldn’t imagine the thoughts that went through their minds at this time as they stood in the front of the formation, but we all had hoped they felt our support. The bagpipes played “Amazing Grace,” and we saluted as the family entered. Seeing the tears streaming down their faces was emotional, but for them to stop and thank us as they proceeded into church was a blessing in itself.

As the family, relatives, and friends entered, we held our formation. Then the funeral director came out to our honor guard representative and whispered in his ear. Suddenly, a message was broadcasted to the formation: The family was so touched by the showing of our support that they were inviting us inside to join in the service. Without missing a beat, the formation began to file inside the church. The sea of blue lined both sides of the church. The mass was one that many of us will never forget; the strength of the family and the words spoken touched all of our hearts. Seeing his soccer teammates wearing their uniform shirts reminded me of us, proud to be in uniform as a group and sticking together through the hard times to support our own. As the service ended, the formation regrouped, lining both sides of the driveway and out into the roadway. When the tiny casket made its way to the hearse, we saluted; once again, the family thanked us for being there. As the procession was leaving, the bagpipes began to play “America the Beautiful” as the sea of blue stood at attention until the very last car passed.

Gathering after the service, we all spoke about how lucky we were to be asked to be a part of a very moving and beautiful ceremony for a little angel. We also spoke about how we, as strangers to this family and town, were treated with so much respect during our short visit. Most of us agreed we just felt the need to do something, and taking time out of our busy lives that day to support our brothers and their family was the most important thing on our agenda.

For many of us, the need to help others is something bred deep inside, whether it’s at four in the morning when the tones go off or attending a service or a fundraiser-we’ll be there working and supporting. Just look at the firefighters who recently paid for and attended a funeral for a victim of a fire. That’s what makes this service unique and unlike so many others: We have a common bond from the fire floor to the firehouse floor. Whether we’re putting on our bunker gear or the blue dress uniform, we are there to protect, serve, and support the community and each other. Are you ready to join us and stand by our side?

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.

Michael N. Ciampo will present “On Fire: Thoughts, Scenarios, and Scenes” on Thursday, April 25, 2013, 1:30 pm-3:15 pm, at FDIC 2013 in Indianapolis.

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