As a relatively new Assistant Chief of Fire I was suddenly thrust into meeting Wendy Norris and her Texas LODD Team when a horrific chain of events one fateful Sunday afternoon lead to our department losing one of our own to a LODD, a Line of Duty Death.
In what started out as a training exercise that was taking place outside of our territory we were suddenly face to face with any commands worst nightmare and, I'm not afraid to admit, one we were woefully unprepared for.
I remember that after we received confirmation that Neal W. Smith had passed away and arraignments were being made to escort him back home from where the training took place, it was like a Tsunami Wave of things that needed to be done. And they all needed to be done Right NOW and and yet we desperately need to see to the needs of Neal's Family, and that of our department members.
I'm not sure exactly how it came to be that my Deputy Chief ended up at one location and I ended up at another, a small miscommunication in the flurry of emotions and tears I'm sure, but I had assembled a small team with me, and Chief had with him, and separately we were starting the small steps that would lead to Honoring a Hero that had given his all.
I remember staring at a white board wondering what do I do first? I was truly still lost and dazed and then Wendy came up to me, I had been introduced to her and some of her team but honestly didn't know what they did or even how they had come to be here, and she gently whispered, “Look at it as you would an Incident Command situation”.
I am not sure why but those words cut through the fog and tears and immediately set me to task. Throughout the following weeks , during the time when grief overwhelmed, things got heated, tempers flared, emotions drained, and the never ending flow of tears Wendy and her team were there to always bring us back to what was most important, Honoring Neal.
I honestly can't thank her enough and am Honored to call her Friend!
Here, in her own words, is how Wendy would describe the Texas LODD Task Force:
“If there is ever a picture that tells the story of the Task Force, the volunteers that go out and help, and the families that are left behind, then this is it. This picture was taken at a special project that we are working on and features several of our volunteers and the son of fallen firefighter Kevin Sanders who died in the West Explosion in April of 2013.
The Texas LODD Task Force has watched this little boy grow up. Many of the men featured in this photograph, and so many volunteers that aren't pictured, were there for him when he was just a few months old, and today, they stood beside him once again to help us capture the essence of the work that we do. If you want to know what this organization does, or is about, all you need to do is look at this picture.
It's not about the certifications that they carried, the groups that they were a part of, or organizations that they were card carrying members of. It's not about whether they were officers or rank-and-file, whether they were paid or not, or if they were probies or have served for many years. At the end of the day, when that first responder is laid in the casket because they sacrificed their life, it's about the family and loved ones they left behind. They are the ones that matter the most. They are the ones that are left behind to pick up the pieces. They are the ones that will carry on their loved one's legacy. They are the ones that matter.
Thank you Sarah Sanders for letting us share a little piece of your story in this photo.
Wendy Chang Norris”
***Photo by Benjamin Ranzinger.