780,000 Good Men And Women In Blue

Trying to make sense of the assassination of two police officers on the Saturday before Christmas, my mind keeps drifting back to the morning of March 13, 2010. That’s the day a police officer saved the lives of my family.


Shortly after 5 in the morning, my wife and I heard noise outside. I thought it was some drunks and, when we saw police lights flashing, expected it would soon be over. Instead, at 5:15, a police officer knocked on our door and told my wife that the hotel next door was engulfed in flames. As the shock set in, the officer calmly but firmly told her that we needed to get dressed and get ready to evacuate. He then went on to the next home.

Just 45 minutes later, despite the amazing efforts of volunteer firefighters, our house was gone. And when I say gone, I mean completely. Watching it burn seemed like the cartoon image of termites devouring a house from back to front. The appliances melted. There was nothing left. Everything physical that we had accumulated through more than 20 years of marriage was reduced to ashes.

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The blaze took out a bed-and-breakfast, a hotel and six houses. More than 200 firefighters worked tirelessly in a chilly nor’easter to contain the damage. A local Christian organization opened its doors; the Red Cross set up shop; and our community grieved. The outpouring of support was unbelievable. I can’t tell you how many people offered us clothes or food or a place to stay. Some belonged to our church. Others did not. Some I had never before met. It got to be so much that we had to remind everybody we were OK; people in Haiti, who had just suffered a terrible earthquake, needed help more than we did.

The whole community came together to help us get through something I hope you never have to experience. But none of it would have been possible without the quick and effective response of our local police officers. They didn’t leap through flames or dodge bullets like the TV cops, but because of their effort on that March morning, not a single person was killed or injured by the fire.

A few weeks later, our town held a community service of thanksgiving. My wife and I thanked the police officer who had saved our lives, and we had our picture taken with him. Pictures of the fire taken 20 minutes after he arrived showed our bed in flames. It is horrifying to contemplate. But our hero was embarrassed by the attention. He said he was just doing his job.

It didn’t matter to him or us at the time, but in today’s racially charged police debate, it seems worth noting that the officer is black and we are white.

That man is my image of the 780,000 men and women in blue who make our lives better every day by “just doing their job.” They aren’t saints, and they do make mistakes. We all do. But day in and day out, America’s police officers prove again and again that they are good people putting themselves at risk in a very difficult job.

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