The heroes among us

You rarely see an emergency worker receiving public acclaim, but just because they’re not looking for it, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it, says Stephen Rosenthal

June 22, 2017 10:45

Two completely contrasting events of the past few days — the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Queen’s birthday honours list — both highlighted to me the broad spectrum of amazing people that make us all collectively better.

We’re blessed in our community to be disproportionately over-represented in the recognition stakes. For our number, the roll call of knights, dames, M/O/CBEs and every other conceivable gong out there is staggering.

We punch well above our weight, and not just statistically. Our typical “for services to…” citations usually reference the most stratospheric academic, medical, diplomatic, cultural and philanthropic contributions imaginable.

Within our value system of tikkun olam, it makes sense that these are our talismans. It’s a powerful lesson that not all heroes carry out daring rescues.

But, that said, in the relatively privileged circles many of us tend to operate in, it’s easy to forget that many heroes actually do exactly that, every single day.

Last week, myself and two colleagues were honoured to meet the Green Watch of the Kentish Town Fire Station. After the horrors of Grenfell Tower and the outpouring of love and support for the survivors pulled from the fire, we wanted to do something for those who had run into it to save them.

So we offered a small donation, a handshake of thanks and a listening ear over a cup of tea.

And I’m so glad we did. What exceptional role models they are.

They told us that tragic events like Grenfell serve to put them, fleetingly, into the public consciousness, but, at the same time, “high-rise fires are our bread and butter.”

There was something about the nonchalant “bread and butter” that has played on my mind since.

Anyone unfortunate enough to experience one tragedy of this nature would be forever haunted by it. To rush to a dozen a day, risking your life for complete strangers, is unimaginable.

The youngest among them earn £25,000 a year. Subtract the mandatory 13 per cent pension contribution, union subs and welfare fund contribution and it’s little wonder many rely on food banks to feed their families.

Listening to their stories, you can’t help but think: Why on Earth would anyone do this?

But then you have a cuppa with them and it’s immediately crystal clear. They are genuine, bona fide superheroes.

I’m proud to say I’ve worked for, with and alongside some of the members of our community on the honours list.

At the same time, I’m equally ashamed to say that, as far as I can recall, I’ve hardly ever thanked, let alone spoken to any firefighters, police officers or paramedics.

And that’s not right. I’ve lived within a bubble that needs bursting.

Recognition is a wonderful thing. Beyond a show of gratitude, it shines a spotlight on the finest virtues within our society, encouraging all of us to create a better one. Yet you rarely see an emergency worker receiving public acclaim.

Their humility and sense of duty mean they aren’t bothered for a trophy. But just because they’re not looking for it, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it.

By the time we left them, the firemen were thanking us for coming to see them. The fact that the public’s gratitude was such a novelty to them truly saddened me.

So, trust me, if you’re looking to inspire your children with the shining lights performing the most essential tikkun olam, celebrate our communal honourees.

And then seek out these dedicated emergency response heroes and heroines, shake them by the hand, say thank you and realise that the honour is all yours.

June 22, 2017 10:45

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