Board Notes: Global pandemic requires everyone to sacrifice

pandemic requires sacrifice
Mark Laskow, Board Chair, Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

“You know, I’d better write my Impulse article now, before I catch this damned virus.”

I’ve been writing this quarterly column since 2007, or thereabouts, but this is the first time I’ve had to consider a pandemic as I start my work. As soon as the thought popped into my head, though, it was bumped by a more urgent one: “What about all the healthcare providers who are going to work this morning to face real danger?”

All that is required of me is that, from the safe isolation of my home, I write the article… NOW. The “now” part has always been a problem for me, but today I am powerfully motivated by the sacrifices others are making on our behalf.

This could end up as the worst disease outbreak in living memory for the people of Canada and the United States, but the Hero Fund’s memory is longer than that.

Andrew Carnegie created the Hero Fund in 1904 and 14 years later the two countries were caught up in the global flu pandemic of 1918.

I wondered, as you might, how this affected the Hero Fund.

Our offices are closed right now. I certainly would not ask our staff, who are working remotely, to go physically to the office to review our archives.

Information about awarded cases is available online, however, so I reviewed the awards for the years from 1918 to 1921. This did not reveal any cases that seemed pandemic-related.

This is not surprising, since the Hero Fund’s cases are dominated by physical rescues: fire, ice, drowning, assault, suffocation, and similar mayhem. When we get back to normal — and we will — I’ll be in our archives to read more about this.

We can see, though, that the Hero Fund staff and Commission members continued to function throughout the pandemic. From 1918 to 1920 they researched and awarded 215 cases, averaging 72 per year. In the year before the outbreak and the two years after they awarded 265 cares, averaging 88 per year. From this I conclude that (1) there was a definite impact and (2) they got a lot done in spite of the pandemic.

Remember the conditions in which they worked. They were definitely not telecommuting! Just the opposite, the cases were investigated in person by traveling investigators who spent most of their year on the road. These brave souls took serious personal risk to carry on the work. My hat is off to them.

There will be much heroism called for in the coming weeks and months. In particular, our healthcare workers, from housekeeping to senior medical staff, are already taking risks far beyond what we are entitled to ask of them.

It is predictable that some will lose their lives in the effort. We owe them more than thanks for this sacrifice. We owe them some sacrifice of our own.

Over the coming weeks and months each of us has a responsibility of our own, a responsibility to break the chain of transmission of this virus in order to protect our families, protect our neighbors, and protect the healthcare workers who are taking such great risks for us.

This vigilance requires that we each put our community first, remain mindful of what we are doing, and cheerfully make sacrifices for the common good.

None of us is so special as to be exempt from this obligation. That is what our Carnegie heroes knew, and it is what you must know.

We have always needed our heroes, and they have been there for us. You must be there too, just as they were.

— Mark Laskow, Chair
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission