Each American city has its own list of firefighters, police officers, nurses and doctors who are celebrities. At the most fundamental these are professional men and women who give much more than our society has a right to ask them to give. They give the time that is taken from their families and their own entertainment, they give their years of education and training, and sometimes they give themselves – their whole bright and beautiful lives, body and soul.
In New York’s FDNY, all firefighters have their own sense of the celebrities among them. It is not the same list for all firefighters, but changes according to experience and a value system that allows us to judge people from afar.
My own list has many police officers and firefighters and nurses, and one doctor, the daughter of a firefighter who got me to the emergency room twice in time to prevent only God knows what.
Ray Kelly, the NYPD Commissioner for 12 years, is the world’s law enforcement celebrity who believed in the necessity of strong vigilance and who kept New York, the Number one terrorist target in the world, safe, or at least safer than it would have been before him.
There is Teri Mills, RN, a woman I came to know when I saw that she was determined to create an Office of the National Nurse – an idea we should all support because it will inspire young people to consider a career in the nursing profession and advance the noble cause of medicine, without the inconvenient political attachments that causes such imbalance in Washington. Teri is one of those who is especially deserving of the title celebrity, meaning she lives a life that should be celebrated for her dedicated work to make America great.
Dan Nigro, the FDNY Commissioner, was a celebrity among firefighters even before he was commissioner or chief-of-department. He is the very definition of a fire officer’s talent and competence, and probably the only American to hold both the French Legion of Honor and the Italian Cavalieri to honor his duty at the World Trade Center on 9/11/01.
And then there is Lee Ielpi, one of a small handful of the most decorated firefighters in FDNY history. It does not have meaning to associate a number to those decorations, for the FDNY is not run like that. Whichever medal or unit citation that you wear on your uniform is a living evidence that you placed your life in jeopardy for the love of another human being, and for the respect you carry in your mind and heart for your role as firefighter. It says something about the super-human nature of our firefighters that they can test again and again the forces of the heat and the flames, and remain as humble, as quietly heroic, and as continuously giving as this man whose uniform is covered with commendations and medals for bravery beyond the call of duty.
I personally am affronted by the many entertainment television shows that celebrate people who are mostly living lives that are much ado about nothing. This is not to say that the idea of American show business celebrities is entirely idiotic, for there are some, like Clint Eastwood, who ran an entire city for two terms, and Meryl Streep who lives quietly with her enormous artistic skill, while the less gifted in Hollywood feel compelled to tell us what they think about every political issue of the day.
But the Wavepeg Celebrity “world,” we hope, will praise the former and ignore the latter. Up to you. But surely you must know someone whose life merits the notice and the appreciation of all of us. Peg it for us. Show them your appreciation. — -Dennis Smith