Flames were shooting through the roof by the time the first trucks arrived. The small town fire station did not have the best equipment, but the chief judged that even if they did, there was little they could do but keep the fire from spreading to nearby buildings. As that thought crossed his mind, a portion of the wall collapsed to confirm his diagnosis.
Then came the one report that every fireman dreads. Two women came staggering towards them hysterically coughing and crying that someone was inside! As he tried to calm them to get more information he began to remember what this building contained - it was a small orphanage. He quickly ascertained that most of the children were safely evacuated but on the second floor was the nursery wing and no one had been able to get to that room. Just as he looked at the window pointed at by one of the women, another large section of roof caved in a short distance from there. It was simply too dangerous to send any of his men into that inferno. Yet, a room full of infants could not be neglected, if it were still possible that they were alive.
He told his men of the situation and then told them that he could not order any of them into such danger. One young man quickly stepped forward and volunteered to try to save the children. He donned what safety equipment they carried with them in those days and raced in the front door. Smoke and flames were everywhere, but by crawling on his hands and knees, he made it up the rickety stairs to the closed door of the nursery. Opening the door, he found the room full of smoke, but the fire had not yet broken through the walls or ceiling. He quickly raced to the nearest bassinet and grasped a child in each arm. Opening the window, he dropped them into the waiting safety net, since the town did not have a ladder truck. He made the trip back and forth with each of the children, noticing that the walls glowed a brighter red each trip. As he carried the last two infants, he heard the cracking of timbers and dived for the window as the floor gave way beneath him. He was only able to fling the children over the sill into the net below before the entire floor gave out with a tremendous crash followed by the flaming roof.
The town was devastated by the loss of the young fireman, even as they rejoiced over the saved babies. The entire town turned out for his funeral service and he was buried in the town cemetery with a headstone that carried the symbol of a fireman. The charred remains of the building containing the orphanage were torn down and replaced with a beautiful park named after the heroic fireman. But time tends to dull memories and life did go on. Eventually, that land was needed for an industrial center which was named after the politician who sponsored the necessary legislation and the fireman was mostly forgotten.
Twenty years later, a newcomer to that town, drawn by the expansion in a local industrial center, decided to enjoy the beautiful weather by taking a walk through an older part of town. He passed the town cemetery and was surprised to see some young people inside greeting each other with hugs and laughter. As the last arrived and was greeted by all, they grasped hands and formed a circle around one of the headstones and became very serious. Curious, he stepped closer to see the headstone that was partially blocked by the group. Finally, he could see a beautiful headstone, pristine and new, with the symbol of a fireman. One of them spoke and then they all sang and prayed, cried and laughed together. Overwhelmed, he watched the ceremony until the apparent end. As the young people began to leave, he asked them if the fireman had been one of their friends from school. With enthusiasm, they told the story of the young fireman who gave his life to save theirs so long ago. Because of him, they were all alive this day. So they would often gather there to remember him and to keep up with each other. He found their story touching and their dedication commendable. Yet one thought troubled him. “But, the stone is so new,” he exclaimed! They told him that it has always been that way, although they did not know why.
Unbeknown to any of them, there is one other observer this day. In a secluded corner of the cemetery an old man watches the young people speaking to the stranger. He has seen them gather many times for the same purpose of remembering that fallen fireman. That is because he was there every day. You see, he was the chief who asked for a volunteer to save those children that fateful day so many years ago. He could not forget the fireman, even if most of the town, except these young people, had. And he was the one who maintained the headstone in such pristine condition. A proud father could do no less for his only son.
May this short story help each of us to worship our God with a pure heart.
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