On September 11, 2001, tragic events changed the way that we as Americans view our country, the world, and the effects of international politics. Pride in our country and for those who serve and protect us has soared from that sad time in history.
Since then, we have pledged our admiration and pride to the hundreds of firefighters and police officers and medical professionals (many who gave their lives) that worked tirelessly to save lives and minimize injuries at the World Trade Center. Personally, I will always admire all police, fire and medical personnel for not only what they did during that tragic time, but also for their sacrifices and dedication both before and after that horrible day.
There is, however, a significant group of public servants who also gave their all on those tragic days both during and after the attacks. Those people are public works and public utility workers who served side by side with the other first responders on that fateful day. These public servants are all too often forgotten when the other heroes of the day are duly recognized and honored. They too worked tirelessly and around the clock with great personal sacrifice, having been exposed to the same harsh environment, but without the protective equipment that is typically provided to police and fire personnel. Today, these other public servants are also suffering the long-term effects of such exposure and are possibly experiencing high rates of cancer and respiratory problems, not to mention the emotional toll that such an occurrence would cause.
It should be pointed out that when a first responder shows up to an emergency, several public works and public utility workers have already been on the job. Imagine firefighters responding to a house fire and there is no water at the hydrant or there is no one there to disconnect the electricity or natural gas. Also, imagine police and fire personnel attempting to respond to an emergency and the road hasn’t been plowed, a fallen tree or rubbish has blocked their path, or there are no street lights. Public works and public utility personnel work around the clock to provide services on a 24/7 basis. They are often called in to work overtime hours on holidays or in the middle of the night to plow snow, respond to flooding, repair a water, sewer, gas or electrical line or to assist fire and police personnel with an emergency. Imagine for a moment how difficult emergency response communications would be if there were no two-way radios, phone service or electricity. None of these things would exist without the efforts of so many public utility workers.
Unfortunately, many people don’t always recognize that while they may directly need police or fire personnel only a few times in their lifetime, they have to rely on the responsiveness, dedication and hard work of public works and public utility employees for their life needs on a daily basis. Just imagine a life without running water, flush toilets, paved roads, snow removal, trash pickup, telecommunications, heat or electricity. When such services were not available, that period of time in history was referred to as the Dark Ages, which is appropriate in more ways than one.
So, the next time you see a public works or public utility worker, give them a wave or thumbs up and let them know you appreciate their efforts. After all, as our “anytime” responders, they are the reason in so many ways that you and your family can comfortably live your life today.
Jon Stoppels, City Manager