The fire this past weekend is part of a horrid pattern in metropolitan Philadelphia. Too many old buildings fall victim to insufficient maintenance, and hundreds of families suffer for this neglect every year. From Camden to Chester, Coatesville to Cheltenham, fires destroy homes and lives like a pestilence on the region’s neighborhoods.
Sudden, catastrophic occurrences like Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Boston bombing, or even the blizzards of every winter season convey urgency. The crisis of death, injury, and displacement drives national and international responses to help people recover as rapidly as possible. Even the expansive wildfires of the west coast can stimulate constant news coverage and limitless compassionate sacrifices to save and uplift the survivors.
One of the greatest lessons to learn from these circumstances is to never wait for the disaster. Constant vigilance and preparation is the only solution that save lives and accelerate recovery. Watch the news and read the local websites regularly. Fires live alongside Philadelphians and their suburban neighbors like deadbeat in-laws. The MOVE Bombing in 1985 is only the most famous fire in the city’s history. The prevalence of these events requires even greater vigilance than first responders have demonstrated to this point.
Law enforcement, fire fighters, and emergency medical providers share an honored mission that stretches back almost two centuries in southeastern Pennsylvania. Under the auspices of the federal offices of Homeland Security, they have become the domestic heroes only comparable to the soldiers who served in the Armed Forces abroad. In efforts ranging from the Police Athletic League to food and blanket drives to Little League sports, these organizations demonstrate their courage and compassion on a daily basis across the region.
In the wake of the fire, Norristown can do more than the standard care and recovery for the affected families. The community can build a stronger, more sustainable support for first responders and disaster management in Montgomery County and the surrounding region. Youth who participate in the community relations programs with these brave men and women should look into the internship and scholarship opportunities the police, fire, and ambulance professionals offer. After graduation from either high school or college, local alumni can form new businesses that supply innovative technologies and global resource networks to the area’s emergency management infrastructure.
Greater community involvement over longer periods of time will produce a safer, stronger Norristown, while increasing regional preparedness for future fires and other disasters.
Dr. Walter Greason is the Executive Director of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).