I long have harbored a deep respect for first responders. In fact, if I had not become a journalist, I am certain I would have tried to become a member of the Chicago Fire Department.

The feeling comes to me naturally, as one of my relatives, long ago retired, spent his entire career as one of Chicago's bravest. Much to my joy — and to my parent's chagrin, I am sure — Cousin Billy's firehouse was on the route to my grandparents' home on the city's Northwest Side. Consequently, there were very few visits to my grandparents that also didn't include a stopover at the firehouse. We visited so often that it didn't matter whether Cousin Billy was on shift; his colleagues would let us do what we always did, which was to try on the helmets and climb all over the equipment. (Though they never let us slide down the pole, to my everlasting regret.)

Despite Cousin Billy's lofty status in our family, there was one aspect of his legend I wasn't all that thrilled about. Every holiday dinner — and I mean every one — we would have to listen to the story about how Cousin Billy's company was buried under rubble during one particularly terrible blaze when a roof collapsed, and he was one of the few who made it out alive, though badly injured.

As I matured, I began to feel differently about that story, and now I think back upon it reverentially. I realize now that those who run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out are among our society's most special people. The same holds true for police officers — who patrol our streets not knowing what they will encounter around the next corner just so the rest of us can sleep soundly — and every other first responder.

I thought about all of this as I read the first-person account by Ben Holycross (page 8) of the effort to restore first-responder communications after Hurricane Katrina. Although he likely couldn't imagine in advance of arriving in Mississippi the devastation inflicted by this once-in-a-lifetime storm, Holycross — as a seasoned disaster-recovery specialist — had to have some idea of what he was getting himself into, namely excruciatingly long hours and enormous stress. He eagerly went anyway.

There exists in our industry a great many professionals such as Ben Holycross. We owe all of them a debt of gratitude.