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In our opinion: The call of duty

Published: Thursday, July 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The extreme circumstances that have conspired to create what could very well be the worst wildfire season in recent history have placed an extraordinary burden on those who are called to duty whenever and wherever flames appear.

It needs to be said that the work of firefighters, paramedics, rescue crews and all of those who are tasked with public safety in the face of such emergencies are deserving of our respect and gratitude.

It is dangerous and exhausting work. Already this season, six firefighters have suffered injuries while battling wildfires in Utah. In June, two pilots from Idaho lost their lives when their air tanker crashed during maneuvers over a wildfire in Iron County.

The fire season coincides with the busy season for search and rescue crews who are summoned when people find trouble in the backcountry. This week, a respected trooper for the Utah Highway Patrol accidentally died after helping rescue two teenagers stranded on Mount Olympus.

Trooper Aaron Beesley served commendably for 13 years before he apparently lost his footing in a treacherous area. He leaves behind a wife and three young children, a loss for his family and, without question, for all of us.

People like Trooper Beesley are called to their profession because they find reward in the service of others. Those who train to fight wildfires are of the same breed. In torrid heat, carrying 70 pounds of gear, it is common for them to work 16-hour days, often for consecutive days on end.

In the recent Rose Crest fire in the town of Herriman, flames threatened 500 homes, forcing residents to flee. In the end, the fire claimed four homes, a tragic toll, but one that may easily have been much worse were it not for the skilled and unyielding attack by firefighters.

Residents who saw up close just how precarious the situation was were quick to offer thanks and praise to the crews who fought back the rampaging flames. The firefighters should consider it a surrogate offering of gratitude on behalf of all of us who recognize that at some time, we too may find ourselves in harm's way and in need of their quick response.

It's easy to take for granted when an emergency strikes that we can summon help and expect it to arrive quickly. It's important to remember that those who respond often do so at risk — sometimes extreme — to themselves.

Emergency responders should know the community they serve is deeply appreciative of the work they have done and will no doubt be called to again as we suffer through a season of unusual peril.

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