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Wife of Detroit firefighter: Have we forgotten the value of a hero?

The following is a letter from Nicole Apel, wife of Jerry Apel, a Detroit firefighter at Engine 9/Ladder 6 quarters. Firefighters like her husband are extinguishing more fires with substandard safety equipment, 10% pay cuts and fire hydrants with no pressure. This is their story.     

What is the value of a hero to you? What is the value of the hero that comes to your aid in the middle of the night? What is the value of the hero who saves your home and most prized possessions? What is the value of the hero who carefully cuts your loved one out of a severe car wreck? What is the value of a hero who will risk his life to run into a burning building to save your children?

The value of that hero is very ,very high for me. The reason is that 9 or more days a month that hero leaves his family for 24 hours a day for you. My children and I give up one of our most prized possessions, my husband and their daddy, so he can go out and risk his life to save yours. It feels to me that societies’ value of this hero is diminishing. September 11th was not that long ago. Those men did a job that they did not have to do that day. They risked their lives to go up many floors to save as many lives as they could, many never making it back out again. The men I have met who work here in our state have that same mentality. They know what their job description is and that it may come to the point of making a decision to go in and attempt to save a life at the risk of their own. I know with all my heart that most would choose to try and save you if they felt they could, just as they did on September 11th. Please don’t forget their courage. I promise you that it still lives in the hearts of these men.

I live a very modest life. I have a modest mortgage, one car payment, no credit card debt and shop for groceries strictly with coupons. We vacation with our camper that we bought with a small savings. My kids have never flown in a plane or stayed in a hotel. My husband has never been paid great, but with my job we were able to pay our bills with a little extra for fun money so we could do things with our kids.

Recently the city has shown me just how much they value my hero. They applied (for a substantial grant) to help pay the public safety officers wages, and they were granted the money. Shortly after receiving the money, the city cut their pay by 10 percent. The next pay period they decided to raise our health insurance costs so that our pay cut reflected nearly 20 percent. I understand just as well as the next person that the economy isn’t good. My job has been severely affected also. I understand that things need to be cut but this is the problem. A firefighter with a wife and 3 children now qualifies for food stamps. What?! Is the man I send away for 24 hours at a time to run into burning buildings and to save your life worth so little that his income should qualify for food stamps? My hero husband has now had to start working 3 separate jobs to keep the bills paid and food in our kids’ tummies. How would you feel if you sent such a precious person in your life out every day to do a job where he is risking his own life for others?

Someday my husband might not come home. Some day I could receive that call that he has been hurt. I could lose my soul mate, and my kids could lose their daddy, because all he ever wanted to do was save yours. He is passionate about what he does, and I have never met a man who absolutely loves what he does more than he. We often talk about him leaving this career because he could make so much more doing something else, but he would die. His heart is so caring and compassionate that he would never be the man I married in another profession. He reflects his love for people in his everyday life, and on a daily basis I am taken back by his kindness to human kind. He gives up so much for you, holidays, Christmas morning, school events and tucking his kids in at night.

All I ask is for society to see what these men do and how much they are willing to lay on the line to do so. When you see one thank them. Support them. Fight for them. Fight for what they do every day, it matters. Fight against the severely poor manner in which these men have been treated for the last decade. Appreciate what they do and if ever you have the chance, fight for the hope that they at least make a decent living for a decent days work. I pray you all never need the help of my husband or his coworkers, but if you do, I know that he will do whatever in his power to save you and all your loved ones.

Loving wife,

Nicole Apel

“Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” – John 15:13

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Tom

    This is one sad state of affairs

  • Tom Barrow

    My heart aches…please do not view us based on leadership which does not itself value Detroit!!!