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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Bethesda, Maryland


Thank you all very much. From George to George, thank you. [Laughter] President Giebel, thank you very much, and Chief Dwyer and members of this marvelous Bethesda-Chevy Chase Volunteer Rescue Squad. And of course, I want to pay my respects to our county executive, Sidney Kramer -- thank him for being with us today. Congressman Curt Weldon, an old friend of mine, a current Member of the United States Congress, is the founder of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, one of the most rapidly growing caucuses in the Congress and one that really has unanimous, across-the-aisle support. So, Curt, I'm delighted to be with you.

And of course, I don't need to say to you, her constituents, too much about my friend, your own friend, and our Representative in the United States Congress, Connie Morella. I will tell you, coming out, she wanted to be sure -- you know Connie -- she wanted to be sure I knew absolutely everything I needed to know; so she was telling me that it was -- and she said it not in a partisan sense, but in a sense of civic commitment -- that this is the heart and soul of the community. And she said that it enthusiastically let her have her announcement here, her victory celebration and, indeed, even her son's wedding reception here. [Laughter]

So, in addition to other good works, I salute this organization for being the heart and soul, as Connie said, of the community. This is the organization that I spoke to as a Vice Presidential nominee in 1980, and I'm certainly glad to be back.

One reason that I'm so pleased to be here is that if my speech is a disaster, relief is at hand. [Laughter] Then, too, there's another point that Curt and Connie and I were talking about coming out here: This week -- it is National Volunteer Week, which celebrates the selfless character of the American people. National Volunteer Week salutes what I call this nation's Points of Light, this vast galaxy of individuals and businesses and schools and churches and synagogues, unions and voluntary associations working together to solve problems. This rescue squad really is a Point of Light; it is also a source of life.

Many people don't realize that fully 80 percent of America's fire protection and emergency medical service is supplied by volunteers -- an amazing total, absolutely amazing. And here's the point: Volunteers who meet local emergencies -- risking lives to save the lives of others, just as America's firefighters have done for more than 200 years.

You know, being here today reminds me of a story that I heard, which happened a number of years ago. It seems that 25 of Boston's top Prohibition bootleggers were rounded up in a surprise raid. And as they were being arraigned, the judge asked the usual question about occupation. The first 24 men were engaged in the same profession -- each claimed to be a firefighter. Well, naturally, the judge asked the last prisoner, ``And what are you?'' ``Your honor,'' he said, ``I'm a bootlegger.'' Surprised, the judge laughed and asked, ``And how's business?'' He said, ``Well, it would be a hell of a lot better if there weren't so many firefighters around.'' [Laughter]

Well, you get the gist. Even back in Prohibition, your numbers turned the tide. Then, as now, volunteers like you were the first responder not only to fire but also to accidents and floods and cave-ins and collapsed buildings. Then, as now, you acted as the backbone of America, showing that any definition of a successful life must include serving others.

National volunteer work -- it embodies that definition, as do your 50 years of service to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase community. Talk about variety: cats rescued from treetops; children from smashed automobiles; helping victims of heart attacks; and senior citizens, alone and vulnerable, after falls within their own home. Young kids and retirees, executives and laborers -- each of you, to quote the squad's original motto, has ``answered the call.''

Listen to an anonymous letter that appeared on your bulletin board. It talked of the comfort the B-CC Rescue Squad provides. ``You can watch people's faces begin to relax just by your presence. And that gives you a special feeling.'' And look at the man with me here, David Dwyer, chief of the squad for the past 21 years. He's one of the heroes responsible for that feeling. And by day, he works at the NIH [National Institutes of Health]; at night, he's a volunteer -- anywhere there is a need, anytime he is needed.

So, by risking your lives to save others, you are on the front lines. And those who directly take up the fight against drug abuse, illiteracy, homelessness, hunger, environmental decay, and AIDS are also on the front lines. Like you, they are finding the meaning and the adventure that all of us seek in our own lives.

We know that life itself means nothing without a cause larger than ourselves. Firefighting was such a cause when, in 1736, Ben Franklin founded one of the first volunteer companies. And so it is in 1990, with firefighters and EMS [emergency medical service] personnel today 1 million strong. I salute you, as does your community. We respect and admire you for a job well done. Today America is grateful for your special brand of skill and courage, the courage to put another's life before one's own.

Let me close with a Bible verse that defines your lives: ``Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'' You and countless thousands of others like you around this great country serve strangers. You save lives, and you walk the path of engagement in the lives of those in need. And this really is the heartbeat of America and the true meaning of serving others.

Thank you for what you've done. I simply wanted to come out, down the street -- through the skies, I will confess -- [laughter] -- but to say thank you from the bottom of a grateful heart. And I will try to continue to tell America how grateful we are for those who serve others. Thank you very, very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. outside the station house. He was introduced by George Giebel, president of the rescue squad.

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