Thursday, October 15, 2015

Every day, first responders go to work knowing there’s a possibility they might not return home at the end of their shifts. Every day, the families of these first responders hold their breaths until they hear a garage door open or a key turning a lock, signifying their loved ones are safe at home. Every day, the rest of the population go about their lives like normal, at times taking for granted the serious jobs that our firefighters, law enforcement officers and paramedics have.

Last week, with the fire in Grandview, the risk these men and women take came brutally close to home, as one of our own was injured in a ceiling collapse. Just a week after we were rallying for his full recovery and keeping a close eye on those who lost everything in the deadly blaze, another tragic fire happened in another community close to home.

Kansas City lost two veteran firefighters when a wall of a burning structure collapsed Monday night. Fire Chief Paul Berardi identified the two as 43-year-old Larry J. Leggio, a 17-year department veteran, and 39-year-old John V. Mesh, a 13-year department veteran.

Leggio and Mesh were among a large group of firefighters who responded to a burning three-story building of businesses and apartments at Independence and Prospect avenues in the Northeast area.
As a whole, Kansas City was celebrating Monday after a Royals win, and Kansas City mourned Monday night with the incredible loss. This community supports one another in ways that make me incredibly proud to be a part of it. We revel in the highs and grieve our lows as one. There is not just a brotherhood when it comes to first responders; there is also a brotherhood in Kansas City.

This community has the backs of the Kansas City Fire Department. We support the everyday efforts of those who put their lives in danger, and our condolences go out to the families of those who sacrificed their own lives in order to save others. Firefighters Leggio and Mesh, we thank you, we appreciate you and we honor you.

A fund to support the families of fallen firefighters has been made available through IAFF Local 42. Tax-deductible donations will be given to the families of firefighters Leggio and Mesh. Donations can be made by check, payable to IAFF Local 42 and should be sent to 6320 Manchester Ave., Suite 42A, Kansas City, MO 64133.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Over the course of the years that I’ve been in the newspaper business, I have become more and more of a believer in the power of the community paper. No other news source is covering Grandview and South Kansas City like we do. I believe that wholeheartedly. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to bring our readers the good news and the bad news as it unfolds.

I’m not the source of the news. I don’t make it up, and I don’t print only what I want. If there’s bad news, I write about it. I have had my integrity questioned, my faith and morals challenged and my heart broken by readers’ reactions to stories I have penned. Stories that if they had gone unwritten, a certain disservice to the community would have fallen on my shoulders.

Most times, however, the things and people we write about are positive. I have met so many people in this community who have changed me for the better, who have helped develop me into the person and writer that I am today. To all those people, I am eternally grateful.

As I was preparing to write my column on National Newspaper Week early Monday morning, I tried to think of how I could tie in the fact that National Fire Prevention Week happens to fall at the same time. Right around the time this crossed my mind, I heard sirens. Not just the normal police car or ambulance siren, either. This was something major and I immediately knew I had a job to do.

I rushed out of my office door and saw smoke to the west. Something was surely burning. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed behind the emergency vehicles to what would become a horrific scene. Between the mayday calls, an injured fireman and the body of a victim, it can be hard to keep one’s emotions in check. I got some amazing photos despite the lump in my throat and the pure adrenaline that is felt when covering things like this.

That afternoon and evening, I pored through the 400+ photos I took throughout the ordeal. Some showed complete heroism, while others showed complete devastation. This, I thought, is why community journalism is still relevant. Sure, there were television news stations there covering the event. But, I was there first. I followed our guys; guys I know by name, down to the flames. I said a prayer as a captain from our department was taken away by ambulance. And tears fell as I learned of the resident who didn’t make it out.

Monday night, I went home to my quiet apartment in Grandview. With a roof over my head and a blanket to cover up in, I tried to sleep. Each time I closed my eyes, sights and sounds of the day kept me awake. As a journalist, it’s important to stay focused on the job at hand, despite personal ties or feelings. That’s probably, for me, the most difficult part of the job when covering breaking news in my hometown.

I don’t think I have to explain why I feel this newspaper is important to this community. The names in the bylines celebrate with you our accomplishments just as we mourn with you our losses. We don’t just breeze through when something big happens. We live here and we are invested in the people here. We love this community, and more importantly, we love what we do.

I also don’t think an explanation is necessary on why fire prevention can help save lives. The key message of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, October 4 through 10, is to install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Smoke alarms save lives.

I’m lucky to be a part of a community of people and businesses that understand the importance of this newspaper. I take this job seriously and sincerely love what I do. Thank you for your continued readership and support. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

First impressions are important. The old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” serves, for me, as a reminder to go beyond my first impression of people I come across. But, I’m human and I make judgments, sometimes too quickly.

On Monday morning, I was in a hurry to get to the office, but had to make a quick detour to the store first. I breezed through, picking up the few items I needed, only to be greeted at the front of the store by a long line and one open register. I huffed and puffed until a man two ahead of me was directed by an associate to another checkout station. Begrudgingly, I asked the girl in front of me if she’d like to go over to the newly-opened line. She declined after seeing I only had a few items in my hands.

I rushed over to the other lane and stood behind the man who was purchasing a single item. I thought, “Finally, this will go quickly, and I can be on my way.” Not so fast, Mary. The man’s card was declined. I was annoyed...his purchase was for less than one dollar!

At this point, I began to observe what was happening in front of me. The older man was buying a store-brand two liter of soda. His clothes appeared as though he’d been outside for days, if not longer, and he was badly needing a shower and a shave. He politely and patiently asked the associate to swipe the card again, only this time for eighty-five cents instead of the full ninety-seven he owed. This time, the purchase cleared his pre-paid debit card, though he still owed twelve cents.

The gentle-spoken, Santa Claus of a man proceeded to count twelve pennies from a small coin purse in his pocket. It was then that I realized that this man was struggling to pay for something that cost less than one dollar, and my impatience and annoyance started to melt away. He completed his purchase and walked out of the store, leaving me with a heavy heart.

After paying for my items, I left the store and saw the man walking slowly on the sidewalk. I reached in my wallet and grabbed $20. Walking briskly to catch up to him, I got his attention and handed him the twenty. He held it in his hand, looked me in the eye, and began to cry. He hugged me, thanked me profusely, and we both went on our way.

Sometimes, we are busy and get caught up in where we have to be next. But, at times, it pays to stop and observe what is going on around you. I don’t know what the person in front of me at Walgreens on the Monday morning of my thirty-second birthday is going through. But, if in a single moment, I can make someone’s day, that’s a feeling worth more than a $20 birthday gift to myself could have bought me.
As the air becomes a little cooler and the leaves on the trees are beginning to change into colors of autumn, one thing is on the mind of most in Kansas City: baseball is in the air. For the second year in a row, we are celebrating our Kansas City Royals in October.

I’ve never been much of a professional sports fan. Sure, I’ll watch a Chiefs game on TV, or head out to a Royals game if I’m invited. But these past few years have made me a believer. Despite my son’s room being decorated in St. Louis Cardinals gear (he liked the bird when he was little and never changed his mind), we have been cheering for the Royals whenever they’re playing.

I’ve also been rooting for my own MVP. Michael has been playing fall baseball in Raymore (it’s not offered in Grandview after spring) and he’s been pitching phenomenally. So well, in fact, that after Monday night’s game, the umpire handed him the game ball. When asked how often that happens in little league, Michael responded, “Pretty much never!”

His day was made, and I beamed with pride. The kid loves the game. Earlier this season, he suffered a sprain in his hand after playing catcher (lesson learned - keep him on the mound) and thought the world was coming to an end when he was told he couldn’t play for at least two weeks.

So, as Kansas City watches our hometown boys head further into postseason, I’ll be watching my favorite pitcher finish out his fall season on the mound. With dirt on his knees and Gatorade on his upper lip, there’s no one I’d rather watch throw a ball.