Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giants Among Us

Men like to share stories of toughness and courage. Perhaps by sharing such tales, we'll acquire the attributes exhibited in them. One oft-told story involves football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. Ronnie won four Super Bowls and a slew of individual honors. But he is often recalled for what he refers to as a "Paul Bunyan" tale of his allowing the tip of his pinky finger to be amputated, since rehabilitating it would have meant missing a season of football. And Lott is a laudable figure, and this is a good story of dedication and courage. But there are many stories of far greater toughness and courage that never get our attention. One came to the fore this week in the wake of the tragic death of FDNY firefighter Robert Ryan. We all should admire anyone who runs into a burning building to help others escape, but Ryan's story is more noble than most. In October 2006, Ryan stretched a hose into a burning three-story building. In the intense heat, melted plastic seriously burned the back of his head and neck. Did this end his shift ? No, he had another firefighter turn a hose on him to cool his burns, and continued to fight the fire. He then endured a year of painful rehabilitation. He was entitled to retire on full disability, and, with a painting business on the side, you might think he would have done so. But he returned to the job, and also began to help child burn victims. In a eulogy, a cousin's letter to him was read: "You didn't talk about helping people, you just did it. You didn't try to save the world, just your little corner of it." His passion for helping placed him in harm's way this week. Having worked through 9/11 and countless other tragedies, Ryan knew very well that this day may come. Yet despite having endured extensive, serious burns, and being given an opportunity to gracefully walk away from the job and be paid anyway, he continued to save the lives of strangers, while putting his own at risk. So whenever stories of noble sports legends and amputated pinkies are told, listen respectfully. And then puncture the contemplative quiet that follows by saying, "I got something even more amazing. Let me tell you about Robert Ryan."


A scholarship fund for Ryan's four children has been established; a check may be made out to Robert Ryan Children's Educational Fund and sent to: FDNY Foundation, 9 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn NY 11201.

A great number of FDNY firefighters support the work of the New York Firefighters' Burn Center Foundation, 21 Asch Loop, Bronx, New York 10475.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Thank you for this post. My family will be keeping the Ryan family in our prayers this weekend, and sending a check to say thanks.