WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered the keynote address today at the 28th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, MD. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“The relationship between firefighters and the rest of us starts with this fact: We can sleep because they don’t.
“We can lay our heads down in comfort, free from fear, because we know that firefighters are waiting up through the long, tedious hours of night for the sound of an alarm. We don’t hope that they are—we know.
“And we know that, should the worst happen, they are ready to shout down tens of thousands of years of human instinct and run into fire. We don’t hope that they will—we know.
“And we know the cost they pay.
“Each year, they take some 80,000 injuries in the line of duty. Last year, 103 of them lost their lives.
“There is a wide gulf between those who are asked to show physical courage every day, and those who are not, no matter how valuable their work is.
“Most of us will never know the fear of risking our lives, or the shock of seeing a friend lose a life. We can hold physical courage in the highest respect—in awe, in fact—but for most of us it will remain a mystery.
“Maybe that’s true even for those the fallen were closest to, the families they left behind. If it could replace your loss to say that they died in the noblest way possible, defending their neighbors, then we would say it again and again. But words won’t make your families whole.
“And yet, even in their absence, those we have lost still have the power to teach us. And what we learn from those we honor today is that there is room for courage in the life of every one of us.
“They died because there was something in each of their lives that they valued more than life: above all, their families, but also their work; their duty; their calling; their commitment to the safety of each and every one of their fellow citizens.
“No one without that conviction would take the risk they took—the risk they took simply by putting on the uniform. That is the selflessness of courage.
“And even if we are not called to physical courage, every one of us can practice moral courage.
“Let us ask ourselves now: where can we find our own selflessness? What weighs more than our friends’ good opinions, our careers, our comfort? For what could we give everything?
“Physical courage may only belong to a few, but moral courage is open to us all; and if we can’t find an answer on this day of remembrance, then our lives deserve a long, hard look.
“And those we honor here today were fortunate in at least one regard: They took that hard look and found something worth being selfless for.
“Otherwise, they could not have been firefighters.”