By Michael N. Ciampo
It’s that time of year again when many of us will pay tribute to and honor 343 members of the Fire Department of New York who made the supreme sacrifice on the most devastating day in fire service history and thousands of civilians who were killed by terrorist acts at the World Trade Center; the Pentagon; and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As I sit and write this column a few months before the September issue, my emotions and feelings are a bit raw. At least four incidents have happened in the past few weeks that deserve a column for lessons learned or reinforced. However, the other night, after returning to the firehouse from operating at a vehicle accident, we got the dreaded news that we had just lost one of our brothers in the line of duty at a fire.
Sitting in the office in the early morning hours with the scanner on, I hoped to catch some of the radio traffic of the fire or updates on what was happening. Quickly, I went onto our educational Web site on the department computer to look at the fire update link. (This link provides valuable information because it gives you a street view of the structure, the exposures, and other pertinent information about the building. Often, we look at this in case we’re called in on an additional alarm; it gives us a mental size-up before we leave quarters.)
I knew it was senseless to try and catch a nap because my mind was running in a hundred directions. Personally experiencing the loss of one of my brothers and having to inform his wife of her loss was coming back to me like it was yesterday. At that point, my only concern was that the firefighters, colleagues, family, or friends who were charged with this task did it with honor, strength, and courage. Suddenly, the radio silence ended, and the ceremonial unit announced it was approaching the bridge; the battalion chief let them know the units were in position. I could only imagine at this point: The companies were standing next to their apparatus, saluting as the procession went by, honoring our fallen brother.
I felt a great sense of pride: This was another one of those moments that we were there for each other and honoring our departed. Then I thought about how one of the probies was coming in for the day tour. How would he react, since he’d only been in the firehouse for a few weeks? What would we do to pay honor to this brother and all of our fallen? My mind was racing again. The morning newspaper carried a photo that set my mind at ease: As the apparatus procession was going by, a few companies standing outside their rigs saluted as the fallen brother’s body passed. There was no need for words; the photo said it all about our devotion to each other.
So how do we continue the job and move forward each day while paying tribute to our fallen? We remember them by letting our actions speak louder than our words-whether it’s picking up the coffee cup that’s been sitting on the work bench for who knows how long or realizing the apparatus is streaked with dirt and grime and deciding to wash it without anyone telling us. Pass down traditions and pride in the firehouse more by actions than by words; shape new firefighters, and show them the ropes on what to do and what not to do. Show them by doing, not by yelling commands from the recliner with the remote in one hand and your cellular device in the other. Get up and show them; be a mentor, and shape them in making your second home better and helping to maintain traditions and shape your company’s reputation. This is important not only when it comes to the “house” but also when a detailed firefighter works there for a tour or when you respond mutual aid to another department. Strive to be friendly and work alongside each other as professionals, with all the proper courtesies and respect for each member in bunker gear.
Now don’t think this stops at the firehouse; we honor our fallen by knowing our jobs every time we get on the apparatus. Sure, each individual firefighter has strengths and weaknesses, but if we train to our weaknesses, we will be better equipped to meet the challenges we face on the streets. Create impromptu drills, or seize an opportunity to spend a few minutes more at a scene critiquing or learning from what you see in front of you. It doesn’t have to be hands-on training all the time; one former officer reminded me that “eyes on” has to process the information to your brain before your body can react with “hands on.”
Keep your tools in great shape. In a moment’s notice, you may be called to work in a harsh environment. Your tools are no good to you if they don’t start or if they are dull, are caked with a buildup of fire debris, or have missing parts.
It’s important on your own time to prepare yourself and learn about this trade by reading, watching videos, and training. At times, firefighting is the most rewarding job in the world; at other times, it can be devastating. Let your actions speak louder than words in remembering our fallen and carrying on in the professional manner they would want us to.
For related video, go to http://bcove.me/vbyf58sk
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 29-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.
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