'Thank you' to those who are first to respond

It was 10 years ago today that a lot of things changed. The world became a much scarier place, and a smaller one. And, we all realized how much we depend on each other when times are tough.

There was one group in particular whose sacrifice was enormous on Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, I'm speaking of the first responders who laid their lives on the line to help other people.

That spirit of sacrifice and duty lives on in folks all around us.

Kelly Whitley is a professional firefighter for the city of Kannapolis, but he started (and continues today) as a volunteer at the Georgeville Fire Department. Whitley first joined the fire department in 1976 because a friend told him it would be fun. He discovered fellowship and camaraderie there, along with the satisfaction of helping people, and he was hooked. Whitley believes that fighting fires is his way of using his God-given talents to help others.

Earl Rahme drives a delivery truck for a grocery chain and is a volunteer firefighter and chief at the Rimer Fire Department. He also got into firefighting at a young age - 15. Raised a preacher's son, Rahme didn't follow in his father's footsteps, but says his calling was to serve people by putting out fires.

Firefighting is a big time-commitment for volunteers like Rahme. The state requires each volunteer to train for 36 hours each year. That's after the approximately 135 hours of class time it takes to be certified. And those training hours don't include the time volunteers spend in meetings and special events, or keeping the fire department and trucks clean and maintained.

The level of commitment extends beyond the firefighters themselves to their families. Rahme's wife, Debbie, is a fellow first responder, so theirs is a shared passion for helping folks in crisis. Whitley was a volunteer fireman when he married his wife, Gail, so he says she knew what she was getting into. He believes the hardest thing is that when he's on duty or on a call, she's left alone to deal with everything.

Both men downplayed the danger involved in firefighting. They do not ignore it, and in fact stress that the work they do is scary, and that fire is an animal to be respected. But both take the danger in stride, do all they can to be prepared, and get the job done.

I asked both Whitley and Rahme, what is the best way that the public can express their appreciation to first responders. Each had the same answer: Just say "Thank you." So, thank you, gentlemen, and thanks to all of you who keep us safe. Today, of all days, we know how important to us you are.