Fire Service Commentary: Will You Be Remembered or Forgotten?

By Don Erbin Jr.

Recent personal exposure and involvement with several firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) prompted me to ask this question: How will you or I be remembered? Will we be remembered, or will we be quickly forgotten?

We train in fire or EMS weekly and can name several LODD case studies or refer to several different National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports. Quickly, someone's name or agency gets mentioned, followed by positives, negatives, and suggestions. We remembered these firefighters and departments most often because of the things that happened. We learn and teach from these incidents in hope of their not being repeated. On the other hand, I can also mention names of those who are well published, are featured on YouTube, or have a BLOG or Web site stating the latest and greatest fire service ideas and opinions. These people are remembered for various reasons.

What about you? How will you be remembered? Or, will you be forgotten?

Let's start first with your department. Where do you stand?  Are you someone who has earned your place in the rank and file? Have you earned your place on the apparatus? Do you have the training and education to keep yourself from harm's way (as much as we can in this job)? Do you demand respect and the so-called rights of the fire service just because you signed your name once?

Maybe you will be remembered as the knucklehead who drove 85 miles per hours to an outside odor of smoke, even when your standard operating guideline say that this is a non-emergency response. Because it's always been done that way, you wave the "TRADITION" banner. Perhaps you will be remembered as the guy who thrived on drama and dissention rather than taking the time to listen to other opinions or ideas and agreeing to disagree sometimes.

A better option is to be remembered as someone who had put in countless hours training educating yourself and others; knew a lot but remembered there is always room for improvement; had humility; and was a friend to your brothers and sisters.

Will you be remembered as a true fire service leader? No rank is required. A leader is one who leads or guides. Will you lead and guide, or will you be remembered as that guy who yelled and barked orders from a book or manual rather than leading and teaching?

How will you look to others outside your agency? Don't think the word about you or me isn't out. Brother firefighters know each other, and they talk. If you're well known, it's more likely that it's not for being a good leader or firefighter. What have you done? Do you even know what you've done? Maybe it's not the case with your situation, but bad news travels much faster than good news.

Will you be remembered because you and your crew risked a lot and saved a lot? Did you save grandma and the baby? Did you make a good stop on a quickly advancing fire because of coordinated efforts of hoseline deployment, ventilation, and search teams? Your training counts.

Our job as firefighters is dangerous most days, and we have safety haters in our profession. I hope for your and your family's sake that you're not remembered because of something dumb you or someone else had done because of lack of training, knowledge, or skill. Read LODD reports; you can learn a lot.

How would I like to be remembered, you might ask.

I would like to be remembered as a leader, not just by my own department but also abroad. I want to be someone who leads his troops, not by demanding things that I won't do myself, but as someone who is right there with them, no matter what the situation. As General George Patton once said, "No good decision was made from a swivel chair."

I want to be remembered as a knowledgeable firefighter, a friend and mentor, and as someone with humility who gives praise to others who deserve it rather than trying to take it for myself.

So where will you be?

Possibly you will be forgotten in a few months, weeks, or a year. Have you made an impact on your department, the fire service, your community? Have you accomplished things that will make a name for you and your agency, and that show your commitment? Maybe you will just be another face that came and went, and whose name will not even be remembered a few months later.  

Remembered or forgotten? You decide.

Don Erbin Jr. has been in the fire service since 1990. He is a member of the Kuhl Hose Fire Department in Erie County, Pennsylvania, here he serves as chief. He is a paramedic and an instructor of fire/rescue and EMS courses.

Fire Service Commentary: Will You Be Remembered or Forgotten?

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