A sincere ‘Thank you’ to the first first responders

     Philadelphia Fire Department personnel surround the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market streets in Center City on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Philadelphia Fire Department personnel surround the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market streets in Center City on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    To a bystander who leaped into action to at the scene of the collapse at 22nd and Market last week: Thank you. I don’t know if I would have the guts to dig in. Thank God you did.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    So this guy’s driving down the street. I can see him cruising with both hands on the wheel, windows open, Adele on the radio. Scanning the road ahead, he sees someone entering the corner store.

    Bam!

    A building crumbles sideways, crushing the store. Guy slams on the brakes and leaps the few yards to the scene of the collapse. He’s all help, all humanity.

    Wednesday morning, footage of Guy’s eyewitness testimony appears on CNN frequently, for a full hour. Philadelphia overtakes national news — for a building collapse.

    With a fire station on the same block, EMTs arrive within minutes. Some dive into the wreckage, looking for people and, worse, bodies. Some “first responders” rush to tell Guy and the other Samaritans on the scene to get lost. Their adrenalin flowing and their savior tendencies in high gear, they don’t pause to compliment him, to pat him on the back, to bear-hug or high-five him. It’s their job to remove unsafe, amateur helpers from a scene that might deteriorate.

    But still …

    A sincere thank-you

    I never caught his name from TV, but Guy was all I ruminated about in the wake of last week’s demolition derby at 22nd and Market streets. Not the racks of shirts suspended above the rubble, not the ties and the single man’s wingtip shoe poking up among the bricks, not even the Wednesday-sale shoppers killed while browsing. Just Guy, whose instinct made him run through the cloud of brown dust to try to save a life.

    And I’m thinkin’, “Hey, Guy — thank you. Thank you for taking risks you never stopped to think about. Thank you for talking to a terrified, half-buried human being. Thanks for flinging bricks out of the way and jettisoning heavy wooden beams. I’d kiss you on both cheeks if I knew who you were.”

    I am so sorry that professionally trained emergency personnel brushed you aside when they appeared. They know by rote what to do and how to do it, but I feel like you deserve more — at least a sincere apology from a dozen people, at least a beer to cry over, at least someone to talk to about how you felt.

    I walked by the devastation recently. Had to. I’m a second-generation thrift shopper and donor who has found retail therapy in this Salvation Army shop. Outside the chain-link fence, I talked with a cop about you, Guy. She said the appropriate stuff about training and expertise and protocol. She also understood that you might feel unappreciated.

    I also met a man who works next door at the College of Physicians. He was standing on Ludlow Street, as close as you were to the scene of despair. But when the cameras came calling, he couldn’t find the words to speak. Even today, he’s not ready to talk about the shock of what he saw.

    So, thank you, Guy. Philadelphia, the country and the world need more people like you. Boston had a few on that awful marathon day. Don’t know if I would have the guts to dig in. Thank God you did.

    Reach Susan Perloff at writerphiladelphia.com.

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