FORGIVE THE KINGLY and/or queenly aspects of it, but we have been drawing up a special, non-political honors list this month. It is a list of people who deserve the community's gratitude for the way they have been coping with he impact of the cold.
First on the list are the area's firefighters. They have been called on, too often, to rescue people and prooerty in the most harrowing circumstaances of blazing fire and cascading ice. It is grueling, terrible work, requiring skill and stamina that onlookers can only guess at. A New York fireman, Dennis Smith, summed it up a few years ago in "Report from Engine Co. 82." He described frozen hose couplings, frozen hands, ice-crusted clothes and bodies beaten by the water and the wind. "With each biter gust," he wrote, "I swear to God I won't stand another one. But I do." "I swear to God I won't stand another one. But I do." That's the thing about this particular breed of public servants: They always do.
Next come the others who are always on hand when disaster strikes - including the Red Cross and those who furnish emergency medical services. Right up with them on this month's honors list are the thousands who have been battling the cold in order to keep energy flowing for the rest of us: the utilities' repair crews, the oil-truck drivers, the wizards who fix furnances, and the study seamen who have been scrapping with the ice on Chesapeake Bay. Auto mechanics have earned more than usual price. And there are all the individuals who have kept vital services working as well as possible: Metrobus drivers and repairmen, those who have been trying to clear the streets and collect the trash, those who transport children to schools and goods to stores - and everybody who has been braving treacherous sidewalks to deliver the papers and the mail.
We can't list everyone whom we're indebted to - and every reader will no doubt have some nominations of his own. The point is that such cases, it doesn't do to say that coping with nature is part of the job, or that for some the cold may be producing lots of overtime pay. There has been something more that keeps such people on their jobs when they are tired and very cold and could find many excuses for staying home.
One could, of course, turn the experience around and wonder why all basic services can't always be provided with as much dedication and ingenuity and disregard for personal discomfort. It may be that fighting the elements for a few weeks is easier than wrestling with the daily weight of boredom and bureaucracies. It may be simply that extraordinary situations prompt and extraordinary response. But those are matters to think about on a warmer day. Right now it's time to thank all those who, for whatever reasons, have been serving the Community so well*