Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unit #210 - My special Hero

There are many different posts I could write today, in honor of 9/11.  As can anyone, just closing my eyes takes me back to that day and that instant when our country was attacked.  Having nearly an hour commute, I was on the road listening to news on the radio.  Stomach churning, I pushed to get to the office to connect with others and see what I was hearing.

Witnessing the crash, black smoke, frantic and scared people running, only made me want to get home quicker.  Gathering work that I may need, I said goodbyes to my co-workers and rushed to pick up my baby.  Noah was only 20 months old and staying with a private sitter.  My heart calmed the instant I picked him up, holding my precious boy close to me.  We then waited in a longer than normal line at school to pick up Austin.  Home was my destination.  Home felt safe.

In those first moments, hours, and even days after, my only concern was my family.  I hugged them harder, kissed them more, and watched them sleeping, as gathered together in the stillness of our house was about the only time I felt at peace.  9/11 was the first of many events in our lives that reminded us of how short our time on this Earth really is and how none of us know what day will be our last.

Being married to a firefighter, 9/11 took on another meaning for me, as we remembered the 343 men and women who lost their lives that day saving others.  In the years to come, we would attend many services recognizing their sacrifice and that number would forever be etched into our minds.  It not just a number of sadness, it is a symbol of pride.  While so many were running out of those buildings that day, 343 brave souls willingly entered to save as many as they could, most knowing it would be the ultimate sacrifice.

For us, there's another fire number we take even greater pride in, and on days like 9/11, we pause to remember and reflect.  For us, that number is #210.  #210 was Austin's unit number as a junior firefighter at Beaver Dam Fire & Rescue.  This number is not just etched into our hearts and memories, but also onto Tim and me.

I have one tattoo on my body and didn't get it until well into my 30s.  It's black and grey and contains simply the numbers 210 surrounded by angel wings.  On my lower ankle, it is located not just in a place for me to know but others to see.  An obvious memorial tattoo, people ask what it represents.  This is my opportunity to share with yet another how special our son was. 

Austin was one of a kind, full of love and passion for life.  It seemed his sole mission here was to help others.  Becoming a Junior firefighter, and following in his dad's shadow, was a natural fit.  He was so proud of his unit number and what it represented.  We were filled with pride that at only 13, he was maybe one of the youngest firefighters to join a department in the county. 

Sadly Austin's time with the department would be short, as he passed away the same year he'd joined, but the impact he made was great.  The Junior program has increased both in our home department and others within the county.  Many who've joined were Austin's friends and I have to think that he had a little part in their inspiration to become firefighters. 

Each time I share his story, or look down at my tattoo, I feel a piece of Austin there.  And although difficult to see, we watch his dream live on in other youth with a sense of pride, knowing they're following his lead and that Austin's smiling down because of it.

The unit number #210 was retired in Austin's memory upon his passing but his legacy will live on forever.  More of his time as a BDFD member can be read here: A True Hero.


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