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Editorial: A day to pause and thank

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
ó John Donne
More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the service today for the Salisbury firefighters who lost their lives last Friday, Victor Isler and Justin Monroe. The usual subjects of newspaper editorials ó test scores, annexation, politics ó seem trivial compared to these deaths. Their families are grieving, and Salisbury has experienced a seismic shift. From thousands of people living separate and conflicting lives, the tragedy has unified the city into one body with one common thought: sorrow for the loss of two firefighters who died doing the job they loved so much. We are one, and our heart is heavy.
Much as Southerners pull to the side of the road when a funeral procession goes by, the city will put aside its normal rhythm today as firetrucks and mourners pour into town. Businesses will operate and schools will hold classes, but this is an extraordinary event, and people should be prepared to be patient. The brotherhood of firefighters is vast, and a tragedy like this pulls them together from all parts of the country. The brotherhood of man is also a strong force, so ordinary citizens will be drawn to the service, too. The city’s traffic won’t flow quickly. Waits may grow long.
That leaves plenty of time to marvel at the interconnectedness of life. Isler and Monroe didn’t just man a hose together last Friday; they signed on as rookies at the Salisbury Fire Department within four days of each other last June. Justin grew up here and seems to have known half the county through his own friendships or his family’s. When he was 6 years old, Post columnist Homer Lucas wrote a warm tribute to the youngster, who he accurately predicted would do good things. Justin decided early on that he wanted to be a fireman, and at 19 he was volunteering at one department while working part-time at two others. He hunted, he fished, he liked to joke around. Short as it was, Justin’s life seems woven into the fabric of Rowan County.
Isler came to North Carolina from New York to work with his childhood friend, Salisbury firefighter Chris Damato. In a bittersweet twist, Damato’s wife gave birth the day after the fire, and the Damatos gave the baby their friend’s name, Victor. Imagine the mixture of joy and sorrow flowing in that household. Imagine the challenges ahead for Isler’s widow and two teenagers.
Losses like these remind the public of the risks firefighters and other public safety officers face. The deaths also make us wish to personally know ó sooner, rather than later ó more of the public servants who protect our city. These two brave men are gone, and many of us are only now getting to know them. The people who come to our aid are not faceless people in uniforms; they are unique men and women with interesting life stories to tell and a higher-than-average desire to help others. We can learn a lot from them ó in death and in life.

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