Remember the days, slightly post-Sept. 11, 2001? The nation was stunned by the loss of 453 firefighters, police and other first responders—almost more shaken by those deaths than by all the other deaths in the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

For a while there, every charity seemed to donate a percentage of its fundraising to the public safety workers of this country. Whatever happened to that appreciation?

As the editorial staff of the Reno News & Review prepares to put the paper to bed for the week, we can’t help but have our day overshadowed by the column of smoke rising off the Caughlin Ranch fire. Very little is yet known about the scope of the damage, and we can’t know whether any human beings will be hurt or how much human-constructed property will be destroyed.

One thing’s for certain, though: As we watch those airplanes and helicopters carrying firefighting supplies, and we listen to the wail of sirens, and we remember accidents like the break-up of the C-130 that took the life of firefighting pilot Steven Wass, it’s a good time to contemplate the bravery of those men and women who put their lives on the line to preserve our homes, families and futures.

It’s easy for some to dismiss the bravery of first responders: They get paid well, and they choose the life they lead. There’s nothing that says they have to risk their lives to protect others’ families and property.

But it’s just as easy to say there’s something about those men and women that allows them to keep coming back to the line, time and time again, to fly into the face of the inferno when every self-preservation gene in their chromosomes demands that they turn around and fly away from the danger. And while we sit here in our air-conditioned office watching that pillar of smoke grow in diameter and density, the certain knowledge that they are not going to turn around and call it a day is very … comforting.

This fire season looks like it’s going to be difficult—both for the people who choose to call the West home and for those who are called to defend it. The Angora fire will fade into the Caughlin Ranch fire, which will very likely fade into the next conflagration. By the end of the season, we, the public, will have grown weary of the constant media news coverage of the blackened landscape, devastated buildings and soot-stained public-safety workers.

Just recall, though, when the summer changes into autumn and the winter snows eventually fly, that there is no salary commensurate to the risk of life, the fear of leaving a child without a parent or the thought that there might be someone who doesn’t get to crack a cold one when the long workday is over.

Remember, it’s not just the ones who lose their lives fulfilling some duty the rest of us can’t really understand who are heroes.