Neighbors

at 12:35 AM

As I rode my scooter down Diamond Heights, fire trucks headed up toward my home on Gold Mine Drive. I didn't react.  I know few people on our street. Generally everyone is swallowed by their garage on arriving home. 

But this day distressed pedestrians pointed to a burning house one row below, and 9 west of my own.

Black smoke billowed over neighboring houses.  News helicopters hovered above.  One firefighter was dead, and two others were injured, one seriously. A day later he also lost his life.

The injured were from the station on the cul-de-sac a couple blocks away. 

I seldom think about the firemen as their trucks pick up speed down Diamond Heights; sirens piercing the afternoon -- or about the danger they've just been in, as the trucks grind their way back up the hill.

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The next morning I stopped at the fire station, planning to discreetly leave flowers in the entryway. A fireman startled me. "Are you one of our neighbors?" he asked. Neighbors. The word caught me off guard.   He took me by the arm, motioning upstairs, where other firefighters gathered.  I protested that I just wanted to leave some flowers; that we felt for their loss; and were moved by their dedication.

He instantly teared up. Anguish spilled out of him in a stricken voice as he clutched my arm, telling me he'd worked with all three firefighters and what amazing people they were.  I handed him the flowers also in tears and left.

That moment brought home the humanity and enormity of the sacrifice made by Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter Anthony Valerio.  Two of my neighbors had burned to death, struggling to save their neighbors' lives and home; a home exactly like mine.

To them Diamond Heights was -- and for their mourning colleagues remains -- not just a maze of streets, with high afternoon winds, and a canyon full of eucalyptus trees, but a community to protect and risk all for.

I am honored to have such neighbors.

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With a Perspective, I'm Kermit Berg.

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