There has rarely been a week when we all have felt more appreciation for the brave men and women who fight fires in the United States. Their work this week saved lives and property all over Southern California.
And whether they're volunteers or paid staffers, and work in an urban environment or in the forest, firefighters share a concern for others. "To actually help somebody when they are having their worst day in the world in is very gratifying," said Charlotte, N.C. firefighter Paul DeFranzo, Jr. "There is so much self satisfaction of help somebody in their time of need."
DeFranzo, the winner of the last All-Access Pass, was praised by his brother, Ed, as a hero, not only to people in North Carolina, but to his family, as well. As the six DeFranzo children reeled when their father, Paul Sr., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, Ed said it was Paul, the oldest sibling, who stepped up to help his parents prepare for the inevitable. And when Paul Sr. died last month, it was Paul Jr. who offered up his ample shoulders for his entire family to cry on.
So it was a bittersweet All Access trip for Paul, but one that his family wanted him to make so he could begin to regroup after months of unremitting grief. And it was also his birthday weekend -- and what better way to spend it than sitting in an airport? Oh, better make that an airport in Australia.
Actually there were lots of airports and planes in Paul's weekend itinerary: after he and Dave Price flew from Charlotte to New York to Los Angeles, they hopped a Qantas flight to Brisbane and then, using their Aussie Air Pass, another flight to Cairns and then another flight to Dunk Island, in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
Five flights, 20-plus hours and . . . the reef was almost impossible to see because of stiff winds that had whipped up the underwater landscape and made it murky. No worries, though, mate -- Paul and Dave hopped into kayaks and paddled around the pristine beaches and hiked up into a rain forest.
"It's absolutely beautiful," said Paul. "One moment you could be in the ocean, the next minute you walk just a few meters and you're in the middle of a rain forest. It's fabulous."
From Australia's tropical coast, the All Access crew -- Paul, Dave and Dave's merry band of travel elves -- headed towards the center of Australia, to Uluru, the world's largest monolith and an Aboriginal sacred site also known as Ayers Rock. It is Australia's most famous natural landmark and is seen up close by nearly a half-million people every year.
Another fact that Dave shared: Uluru is also home to huge swarms of flies, so he, Paul and the travel elves all wore attractive mosquito netting on their heads. Explained Dave, "The indigenous people or the Ananu have inhabited this area for 20,000 years despite really harsh conditions. During the winter it gets down to freezing, during the summer up to 125 degrees, and flies surround you. And that's why we got you dressed like this -- a combination of the lunch lady and Freddy Krueger -- but it's for your own good."
After watching the preparation of some indigenous food and taking a spin on a Harley across the flat plains that surround Ayers Rock, Dave and Paul flew to Sydney, where they set sail in the Harbour for a gorgeous sunset cruise past the famous Opera House.
Later, they watched the Sydney Symphony Orchestra rehearse and topped off the evening with a visit to a local fire company. "I know you have extended family here. So I wanted to make this your last stop -- a fire station in Sydney, so you could say hello to your brothers," Dave told Paul, who was warmly greeted.
At the end, Paul agreed that getting his mind off his troubles for a few days was a good thing. "Every day, every minute of every day, I've said 'you are the luckiest guy on earth today,'" Paul told Dave. "I'll go on with these lifelong memories and it'll make me smile everyday and those days when I'm not feeling so good to smile, I'll think back on it and this will be my good place to go to."