PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The first thing you notice in the firehouse kitchen at Engine Co. 45 is that you can’t see the walls.
They are hidden.
Every inch, floor to ceiling, totally covered by plaques.
Commendations for heroism, bravery, valor.
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This room, where Lt. Matt LeTourneau sat, ate and laughed with his crew every working day, is literally wallpapered with stories of the lives they saved.
I know this because on a very special day, May 25, 2016, I am eating lunch here with the members of Engine 45, Ladder 14 and Medic 25.
The only smoke and fire on this perfect Spring afternoon spout from the grill outside where Firefighter Greg Marshall prepares his legendary chicken recipe. Not
wearing his protective gear, Marshall is blasted by a steady stream of insults to his cooking prowess, still producing what even his firefighter-critics concede is a
spectacular grilled chicken sandwich.
If a firehouse were a church, the kitchen would be its altar.
It is here – too tired and beaten to even speak – that firefighters gather in silence.
Stories of dangers, suffering, lives saved and lost, seen rather than heard in their bloodshot eyes and soot-blackened faces.
After crawling in total darkness through a building burning hotter than your furnace, after pulling a person outside, hoping, praying they are still alive, words
just don’t cut it.
Between calls, this same kitchen echoes with laughter, griping, totally inappropriate jokes, and always plans for tomorrow – that almost mystical “day off”, free and safe for a few hours until the next shift, the next alarm. There is always a next alarm.
Seated side by side, the Lieutenant and I dig in – this is, after all, no ordinary lunch. It is my last day as a reporter, ending a 45-year career, 36 with CBS3. Lunch with the Lieutenant and his firefighters is my final assignment. And that’s just how I planned it.
Weeks earlier, I got a surprise phone call from Engine 45’s crew asking if “I’d like to drop by for lunch on my last day.”
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Understand this: an invitation to “drop by” a firehouse for lunch is among the greatest professional honors I could possibly imagine. Let others show off their
embossed invitations to the White House galas or ritzy fundraisers. When a firefighter spots you and says, “Come on in, we just put on some coffee” or…