Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
It won’t be the traditional “Take Your Child to Work Day” when Eddy Weiss invites his son, Jonathan, to come along. Their destination won’t be a comfortably air-conditioned office. In fact,
comfort of any kind likely will be hard to come by. Their destination will be a scene of mayhem and probably large-scale destruction and perhaps injury and death anywhere in the United States. It will be some place devastated by disaster – natural or man-made.
But Jonathan and his seven siblings are accustomed to the chaotic lives of first responders. Not only have the Weiss kids grown up with parents who are both emergency responders, but they were born into a multi-generational family of first responders – literally documented back to 1640 for Eddy
and 1795 for his wife, Brandi.
“One of the first words I learned was legacy,” Eddy said. “I grew up in a family where legacy was our focus and I want my kids to understand it. I want them to know where they came from so they can understand where they’re going.
“As a child, I had a bunk bed that I pretended was a firetruck. A frisbee served as the steering wheel. I pretended to respond to every emergency my father was called to, and I spent much of my childhood in my dad’s firehouse. When I was 11, I stood outside a burning building on the outskirts of Chicago and
watched my father scale the wall. I literally had ash falling on me. It was life changing.”
After becoming a volunteer firefighter, he realized his role would include education, literally saving people from themselves. “It wasn’t the threat of fire; it was the threat of not cleaning their chimney. When a tornado is bearing down on your family, it’s too late to teach protocol. It must be ingrained so that response is automatic and smart. To do that, education must precede disaster.”
Because of that calling, he has become an internationally known consultant and lecturer on various facets of emergency response, both to adult and young audiences and also to various
governmental agencies. He is the author of “The Definition of Unprecedented” which is about lessons learned from the 2017
hurricane season, and the soon-to-be-published “The End Without an End: America’s Future in a Post Pandemic World.”
Regardless of the nature of the emergency, there is a common thread in the hundreds of disasters he has responded to. “It is the unwavering selfless dedication of men and women who risk everything for people they will likely never meet.
“These people are warriors who don’t blink. They are heroes on the frontline of danger. And while their service is recognized by outsiders as well as insiders whose lives they have impacted or
perhaps saved, it’s hard to understand the motivation of someone who risks everything.
“Our family has wanted for a long time to pay proper tribute to these people and to give them a venue in which they have a voice to be heard and understood.”
Their answer is in the heart of Dublin, Texas. Officially named The National Health and Public Safety History Museum, it is now better known as the Frontline Heroes Museum.
The museum idea emerged when Jonathan was 14. He was seriously ill after breathing poisonous gases and wading in contaminated water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas Gulf Coast. As he healed, he became fascinated with his WWII Geiger counters which led to an expanding interest in other things about the war. He started collecting. Then one artifact led to another and, at some point, the collection took on a life of its own.
“I realized the collection and Jonathan’s passion had gotten out of hand when he started bringing strangers into our home, taking them up the stairs to his bedroom to show what he had. It grew into a massive collection which we took by van to share with area libraries and schools,” Eddy said.
“Before long, the collection was too big to be mobile anymore and, if we were to protect the artifacts, we knew we would have to create a permanent home.
“We were living in Iowa and looking at Texas as a possible new home,” Eddy said. “I had been deployed to several natural disasters in Texas and we decided it was a good place to raise a family….and a museum. With five other museums in town, it wasn’t hard to recognize the community’s appreciation of history.”
So, from the death and destruction of Hurricane Harvey, fueled by dozens of other disasters to which the Weiss family had responded, a museum dedicated to heroes was born in Dublin.
The museum now occupies more than 5,000 square feet of space with rare exhibits collected by Jonathan, now 19, along with the rest of the family.
Jonathon now oversees the collection as a curator but has become a full-time EMT in the Dublin area leaving his younger siblings to operate the museum.
The museum is a tribute to anyone who has ever responded to an emergency, as a professional or otherwise. With 18 exhibit halls, the museum takes visitors on a journey through America’s
development of health care, emergency medical care, disaster response, emergency management, firefighting, law enforcement, the Cold War, pharmaceuticals, crime scene analysis and more.
“We have collected America’s frontline history under one roof, unlike any other museum in the country,” Eddy said. “There are other museums dedicated to fire or war or EMS, but we have put it all in one place to show the vital relationship of one to the other. You can experience the hands-on exhibits about cardiac care and then just steps away you will see how cardiac care is done in an ambulance.”
One of the most emotionally powerful exhibits is the 9-11 Chapel, a tribute to the fallen including Eddy’s cousin, David Weiss, a New York City firefighter who died in Tower One of the World Trade Center. The solemn focal point of the chapel is a piece of twisted scorched girder retrieved from the WTC, displayed openly so visitors can touch it. The message of the chapel is a reminder of the tragedy of the day, but also a tribute to how the nation grieved in solidarity on 9-12 without regards to politics.
“It is vital to preserve and understand 9-11 because every frontline responder in America was deeply impacted by it, not just those in NYC or Washington or in a field in Shanksville, Pa. where I was deployed. Our lives changed on 9-11.”
The timing of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions created havoc with the family’s “best laid plans” -- ironically shutting down the museum on the very morning of its scheduled grand opening.
“We made good use of the downtime by continuing to develop new exhibits and expand those that already existed,” Eddy said. “In fact, we developed a pandemic exhibit which includes one of the hospital tents from New York’s Central Park. We even ended up relocating the entire museum up the block to Highway 6 to the former Rotary Building for higher visibility.”
Finally, as government-imposed restrictions were loosened, the museum hung out the OPEN sign in early March 2021.
“The museum is very much a family project in the same sense that our farm near Lake Proctor is,” he said. “The kids have missions at the farm and at the museum. They start their day feeding goats or chickens and collecting the eggs. Sometimes I will hear them at the museum arguing about whose day
it is to sweep because more than one of them wants to do it. Jocelyn laid the floor in the women’s bathroom. And Jayden’s skills include carpentry and plumbing, while he is becoming a capable curator as well. Even Justin, who is almost 1, keeps the kids entertained while 5-year-old Jethro explains secrets of
the universe or worries that he has so many ideas in his head that they will leak out his ears.”
The Weiss family eats dinner together every night, sometime minus Eddy if he is deployed. Each evening, a designated child asks the other children, “How was your day?” The kids talk about what they did that day and about any obstacles they encountered and emotions they felt.
“We are a little like the family on 'Blue Bloods’ on TV except we are younger and more chaotic. “
The kids learn life lessons from their animals, as well. Several of the kids wants to go into health care and now caring for goats has been added to their homeschool curriculum. They are learning how to care for another living thing and to accept the responsibilities that go with it.
“See a need; fill a need.” A simple philosophy that is the family’s motto. The kids do their mission and then report back to see how to help a sibling complete his mission. “At the start of every
day, the children are taught a Biblical principle and they talk about the meaning of a specific word such as integrity, diligence and honor,” explained Eddy.
Legacy, that concept that was instilled in Eddy at an early age, isn’t just about winning awards or leaving possessions to your heirs. It includes overcoming adversity, raising resilient children, establishing family values, excelling as a leader, being innovative and more. Those who exhibit bravery leave a legacy
of selflessness and courage. It is the mission of the Weiss family to pay tribute to that legacy on behalf of the millions of people who want to say thank you.
By: Karen Wright