Sunday was a very memorable day for me. New Bedford Firefighters Union President Billy Cabral had personally invited myself, other members of the media, and elected officials to experience what firefighters deal with on a daily basis. Little did I know what I was really in for.

The firefighter training event took place at Fall River’s Fire Department Headquarters, and led volunteers through a number of grueling tasks. We were trained to use the jaws of life to open a jammed car door. We experienced the thrill (and terror) of climbing an extended ladder from a firetruck. And the veteran firefighters literally threw us into the fire.

One of the training exercises brought us into a fireproof building used for training purposes. The firefighters closed the door and windows, completely sealing the room, and proceeded to light several bales of hay on fire. Harmless, right? Wrong.

Fire is, of course, inherently dangerous. But the byproduct can be equally harrowing. Before we knew it, the whole room was covered in a thick blanket of smoke. And though the fire continued to rage, I could not see my own hand in front of my face, let alone the blazing inferno that crackled mere yards in front of me. Though I was sitting completely still, I was utterly disoriented, and frankly a little scared. I had never felt so claustrophobic in my life.

I was eternally grateful when our guardians opened up the door and windows to ventilate the room. I was even more relieved when we were told to crawl outside, and stand up. I would not want to go through anything like that in an emergency situation. But these brave men and women around the nation do it every day.

The next time you see a firefighter, a paramedic, a police officer, or any other emergency public servant, thank them. Many of us owe our lives to them, and we don’t even know it.

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