Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fallen Hero

A thirty year old man doing yard work on a Sunday afternoon is supposed to enjoy dinner with his family on Sunday night. A thirty year old man who is a husband and a father of a one year old daughter should live a life long enough to grow old with the young bride who he loves and to watch his one year old grow into a young woman who he walks beside on the journey down the aisle on her wedding day. A thirty year old man is not supposed to die. Yet on Sunday afternoon, for reasons inexplicable, James Pfeiffer, Jr. died. He was apparently working from a ladder trimming a tree when a branch of the tree struck the ladder, causing him to be knocked from it and to strike his head on the ground. Pfeiffer was only thirty years old. He was a Westfield firefighter, having been a member of the Department since 1999. While I sought refuge in law school to escape hard math, my arithmetic is good enough to calculate that at the time he died Pfeiffer was already a veteran of more than ten years on the job.

At age 30, Pfeiffer spent more than one-third of his life in a career chosen by men and women who run towards danger while the rest of us head from it as fast as we can. According to the newspaper account I read, fighting fires in Westfield is the Pfeiffer family business. His great uncle, Norman J. Ruerp, retired as the department’s chief in 1970, and his uncle retired as a lieutenant in 2001. Three years later, Pfeiffer’s father, James Sr., retired as a captain. A family that devotes itself to the service of others deserves a better fate than to lose one of its own in the manner in which the Pfeiffer family has.

If the world was as just as it is unpredictable, then Sunday would be a day that the Pfeiffer family would long celebrate the day five years ago when James Pfeiffer, Jr.'s "beanpole" status permitted the happening of a miracle. Sadly it is not. It is a day that will be forever shrouded in sadness. A man who lived his life heroically deserved a better fate. And a longer life. As did his family.

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;


Anonymous said...

I have no idea if you actually knew Jim or not. I was a childhood friend and this meant a lot to me.

Thank you so much for this.

Adam Kenny said...

Thank you for your kind words. I did not know him but from all I read about him he seemed to be an extraordinary man and a loss to all who knew him and who loved him.

Anonymous said...

Yes, to say the least. There was a 2 hour line to see him at the viewing last night.

Tragic story. I hope you don't mind that I've linked to your blog on my facebook page.

It was beautifully written.

Adam Kenny said...

It sounds as if his wife, daughter and family will have a strong support system to help them thru what is nothing other than an impossibly difficult time.

I shall keep a good thought for all of them.

Anonymous said...

This got picked up in a local news site for the town of westfield:


Anonymous said...

I had the fortunate experience to respond to many calls for service with Jim. Thank you for your tribute to him. Many people come and go but few make an impression as permanent as Jim did. I was there the day he rescued the little boy from the hole in Tamaques park. Without a doubt, Jim had the attitude of being the "first one in and the last one out" on any fire call. He was and will always be remembered as one of "the bravest". May God bless him and his family. He will be missed but not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

His procession passed my driveway this morning. I was stunned at the line up of police and emergency vehicles from different towns, along with fire trucks that i had witnessed. My children asked me what was happening..i responded with "I know its a funeral, and I'm guessing he was from Westfield area, and I'm very sure that this person must have been a very very highly decorated police officer or fireman who was very well respected
and loved.' We followed the procession to St. James Church, my church, in tears. Emotional by the outpour of respect I saw he received on his way to his funeral.
I told my kids, "See? thats the way you want to go to heaven" my daughter asked me how? I told her it was all about making your mark in this world, being a good person, touching others' lives, leaving a good 'mark' others will remember. it was soo beautiful to watch at this very sad time..but i just knew this person was special and I didnt even know him. May he rest in peace, he is with Jesus now.