My Brothers…. I try to give you something every shift I work. This week I’ve been thinking about MY fire service…. Yeah, it’s mine. I’ve given 15 years of blood, sweat, tears to this great service. It isn’t a job; it isn’t a career. It is who you are; it’s what you think about on your days off. I spend my four days waiting to get back to the station with my friends.
This field is so much more than any other job. There is a place for all of us. You can find your path in any of the multiple services we provide. We provide help. That is the simplest breakdown of what we do. Hazmat, fire, rescue, and EMS; someone has called 911 because the situation is out of their control. You don’t have to love it all, just show me the passion for it.
My fire service is passionate. We don’t have to be dedicated to the same specialty areas, however, as a group, we can answer any call. We speak with excitement about the fire service. We immerse ourselves into our craft. If you are here just to take selfies and tell the girls you’re a fireman, you have failed.
My fire service is prepared. A wise man once said, “We save a life every shift.” Does that mean I am the baddest mother you’ve met, and I happen to work at the busiest station known to man?… No. But every training I perform is what I will fall back on to the day that I need to make that save. We pull lines; we throw ladders; we search. If you don’t give a shit about training, you have failed.
My fire service is strong. Do I work with powerlifting record holders?.. Well yes, but our strength is simpler than that. It’s a simple fact that if I go down inside, I have no question that my guys have the physical ability to get my ass out. If this isn’t the case either, you’re too fat or your crew is too weak. If so, you have failed.
My fire service is a brotherhood. We spend time together. We are defined not as individuals but as a group. On duty, we eat together, train together, spend downtime together. Off duty, we are in constant contact. We know what is going on in each other’s personal lives. If you only are a “shift” when you are at work and don’t have contact with your crew until you come back to the station, you have failed.
If you haven’t failed, thank you. YOU are MY fire service. I hope to meet you sometime in the future. I call you my brothers.
If you have failed, leave. You are a poser in my fire service. These things can’t be taught, and honestly, we will find you sooner than you think. It is unfair that you are filling a position without passion. As you leave, I will give you a plastic helmet, a temporary tattoo, and sticker badge so that you can still take those selfies.
Do you ever stop and think how your actions will affect someone in 20 years? Has it ever crossed your mind that just one thing you did today could be the defining moment in someone’s life? Would you believe that a simple firehouse tour and a hot wheels fire truck could put a spark in a kids heart that will last their entire life? I will tell you first hand, it happened to me. At a young age, I took an interest in being a fireman as most kids do. I had the usual toys and fireman costume that you would find in most homes. But unlike most kids, I never grew out of my fireman phase. My parents, seeing that this wasn’t just a typical childhood dream, stoked the fire that was building in me.
While my father was in the Marine Corps, he became friends with a Marine who happened to be a local volunteer fireman. They got together and worked it out so we would come take a tour of the fire house. Little did he know that his actions that day would set the course for my future. From that day forward, my desire and passion for this job grew and grew. Every time a fire truck would pass us in the car, I was glued to the window. I stared in awe as they raced by, lights and siren wailing. I had a fireman themed birthday, complete with an engine company from the local fire department. My parents went as far as buying a Dalmatian, and of course we had to name him Pongo. There was no doubt that this kid was going to be a fireman.
Unfortunately, as quick as my mentor came into my life, he would soon be leaving. Both my father and he were retiring from the Marine Corps, and our paths would not cross again for many years. But before he left, he invited my parents to a farewell party. I don’t remember much of the party due to my fascination with his fire memorabilia he had in his office. The only time I was drawn away was when his pager went off for a call. Then I was glued to the front door as I watched him drive away. Once he returned, I was so excited to hear what happened that I bombarded him with questions before the front door even closed. But as fate would have it, all good things must come to an end. Before we left, he went into his office and took a small silver fire truck off the shelf. He handed it to me and with a smile he said, “Here Buddy, I want you to have this.”
I still have that toy fire truck to this day.
Fast forward about 20 years and the impact from that day is still going strong. I got my first taste for the job when I joined my local Explorer post. I learned that it took a lot of hard work, long hours and sometimes sleepless nights to be a fireman. But I loved every minute of it. During my time as an Explorer, I was so influenced by another fireman that the flames were raging in my heart. He is a 20 plus year veteran and currently a Captain. He would be the one to teach me the love for the job and all of it’s traditions. He taught me how the old-timers did things and never missed an opportunity for a history lesson. But the one thing that stands out the most is the day he told me I would make a good fireman. Some may see this as just a small compliment and think nothing of it, but for me, it meant the world.
Eventually my time as an Explorer came to an end, and I joined my local volunteer fire department. I’ve been volunteering since 2012 and have worked hard to learn my job and make a good reputation for myself. Some point along the way I made the transition from little brother to big brother. I am the guy many of the new rookies come to for advice. I can see that they have listened to my rants on taking pride in your work. I can see it in how they store their gear or how they load hose. They are becoming good firemen.
Our actions on a day to day basis can have lasting effects for a lifetime. Are you that big brother your rookie looks up to? Will you be the fireman that the little kid remembers 20 years from now who sparked their desire to be a firefighter?
Special thanks to my parents who always supported my dream to become a firefighter. To Lt. Lenny Stoleburg for being the one who started me on my journey and Capt. Jeff Kerley for teaching me what it means to love the job. Without you, none of this would be possible.