Dear Paris Firefighters,
We all breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that the main structure of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral had been preserved.
We all gasped in horror, safely from a distance, as all four hundred of you went into that raging inferno and fought for over twelve hours.
It reminded me of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Onlookers safely protected, watching it unfold on the news or reading about the aftermath in the paper, all whispering prayers of hope. But firefighters don't have that option. You run into these burning buildings because that's what firefighters do.
You must have been heartbroken to get the alarm for Ile de la Cite. This medieval landmark of Paris could not be lost now after surviving over 850 years of tumultuous history, including two World Wars.
There was great risk of the walls collapsing. The roof beams were constructed of wood harvested 800 years ago. You miraculously salvaged the three 12th century rose stained-glass windows and the great pipe organ. A human chain of first responders carried relics and paintings to safety.
Not one life was lost.
One firefighter was injured.
I have a special affinity for firefighters.
Your bravery, heroism and sacrifice are tested with every spark of a flame.
A second-grade student of mine once brought his firefighter father in for show-and-tell. We all had the opportunity to try on pieces of his equipment, including a helmet, jacket, pants, gloves, oxygen tank and boots. Twenty years later, I still remember how extremely heavy all of that was and I could barely walk two steps without staggering. And I only wore the jacket and boots.
Firefighters carry and wear all this while risking their lives, climbing ladders, blinded by smoke and battling blazing fire walls of intense destruction.
I thought about your bravery while watching this all unfold on the news. I couldn't see you, but I knew you were in there. Just doing what you always do.
To see this beloved cathedral in flames was horrific, but I was more concerned about you.
I am sure you took this one to heart. This was personal. This was no ordinary fire. This was Our Lady. The pride of Paris. Beloved around the world for centuries.
You were successful under great odds.
You are all heroes.
We celebrate the preservation of flying buttresses, gargoyles and bell towers of an architectural monument to the history of France and the Catholic Church. The Crown of Thorns, tunic of St. Louis, frescoes, paintings and statues are now all in safekeeping.
Because of you.
Firefighters are a humble breed.
I hope President Emmanuel Macron and Mayor Anne Hidalgo set aside a day so the people of France can publicly honor and thank you.
You will bow your heads and say, "We were just doing our jobs."
Some of you won't be able to attend. Fires don't give firefighters a reprieve from work.
Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt to its glory. A billion dollars has already been raised. Once again that beloved spiritual sanctuary will welcome the world to experience her majesty with awe and grace.
All because 400 of you answered the alarm on Monday.
I honor and thank you.
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