Saturday, March 15, 2014


Since nine-eleven we have certainly given lots of thought to our emergency first responders—firefighters and police officers—true heroes who respond immediately to the scene when life is threatened.  Every day these brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect us from disasters, whether the result of criminal actions or devastation brought about by natural disasters.

A while back I came across an article titled A Day In The Life Of A United States Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer.  It talked about his training and related the events of his first dangerous sea rescue during a raging storm.

It got me thinking about a Coast Guard rescue I saw covered live on television many years ago.

Summer 1993 (that's right, a little over twenty years ago)—my first Romance Writers of America national conference.  Flood waters inundated the Midwest.  The Mississippi River was way out of its banks.  That year's RWA conference was being held in St. Louis, Missouri.  Prior to the conference, there had been lots of speculation about whether the conference would be cancelled or its location changed due to the flooding.  Even though the Mississippi River flood waters reached almost to the base of the St. Louis Arch, the conference hotel on the other side of the freeway from the Arch was high and dry as was the airport, so the conference went as scheduled.

There were some interesting moments of weather during the conference.  Late one afternoon during a thunderstorm, there was a lightning strike on the sidewalk very close to the hotel…close enough that the noise sounded like a large explosion and you could see the resulting scorch marks and damage on the sidewalk.  Every day television carried live coverage of buildings being swept away, people trying to save whatever personal belongings they could, animals being rescued, etc.

On Sunday morning following the conference, I had television on in my room while I was packing before meeting a friend for lunch then going to the airport to catch my flight back to Los Angeles.  A local helicopter news crew caught a spectacular rescue for live television broadcast.  The images were riveting as I watched them happening live.  A white wood frame two story farmhouse totally surrounded by swift flowing water.  No land in sight, only the tops of trees.  A man on the roof frantically waving both arms in the air to attract the attention of anyone who could help him.

Then, as if on cue, the Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew arrived on the scene.  They lowered a line and pulled the man from the roof of his house. As he dangled in midair, before they could even get him inside the helicopter, the entire house collapsed and was washed away leaving nothing visible other than debris floating on the water.

Two hours later this same rescue crew appeared in the lobby of our conference hotel.  With the helipad on the roof, the hotel had become their temporary staging area for the next twenty-four hours.  These four young men were surrounded by women all wanting to get hero material for their next romance novel—and understandably so.  They were true heroes in every sense of the word.

That same weekend a major league baseball team was in town to play the St. Louis team and were staying at the same hotel as the RWA conference.  Professional jocks in a hotel with 2,000 women—a match made in heaven?

Definitely not!

From my personal observations, several of the baseball players (certainly not all of them) were rude and arrogant, making uncalled for snide comments when they were ignored by the women…in the coffee shop, at the elevators while waiting for one of the cars to make it to the ground floor after stopping on every floor (anyone who has ever attended a conference with 2,000 people knows what a hassle the entire waiting-for-an-elevator thing can be), in the lobby bar and in the lobby in general.

Then the Coast Guard rescue crew arrived.  The baseball players were almost trampled in the stampede to get to the obviously embarrassed Coast Guard crew who were soon surrounded in a corner of the lobby.  Blatantly apparent that the true heroes of the day were the ones in demand rather than those inflated egos whose noses were bent out of shape.

Just an interesting observation that came to mind while reading the article about the Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

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