By Raul A. Angulo
Raul A. Angulo is a 21-year veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Engine Company 33. He is on the FDIC and FDIC West Educational Advisory Boards. He is president of the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters-Puget Sound Chapter and teaches courses in fire service leadership and fireground strategy and tactics.
The motto of the United States of America is “E Pluribus Unum.” As a people, we have come and continue to come from all corners of the world, from all cultures and walks of life. We came to seek out a new life and new hope in the place they call the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
E Pluribus Unum was forged to the strength of steel with the blood and sacrifice of Americans to pursue and protect liberty and justice for all. It is because of the commitment to this cause, even to the point of sacrificing one’s life to ensure that America is there for others, that it is so fitting to describe the essence of our country’s strength as “E Pluribus Unum … Out Of Many, One.” We proclaim our strength to the world with such pride that it is stamped on every piece of our currency, and it has become the signature of the United States of America.
How do I even begin to write about the devastation that occurred on September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington D.C.? The fire service is still in shock. It’s impossible not to know someone who is directly or indirectly involved with the rescue and recovery effort. Yet the pain we feel is not new to Americans–only to our generation. It was felt during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, every conflict in between, and now the War on Terrorism.
If you’re like me, you immediately put up your American flag. Soon a neighbor followed, until you noticed the surge of patriotic resolve that had been buried for so many years in America’s neighborhoods. In the past, you hardly noticed the difference between Flag Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and any other day of the week. Some years, even July 4 could have passed us by if it weren’t for the fireworks.
After September 11, there was a rush to buy and fly the Stars and Stripes. Stores couldn’t even keep them on the shelves. Here in Seattle, there were local news reports of the onslaught of people who were looking to buy American flags but couldn’t; Old Glory was nowhere to be found. We had temporarily exhausted the inventory with the recent demand.
The day following the attack, I worked at Seattle’s Station 31, a double house. I made sure Engine 31 and Ladder 5 were both flying huge American flags. With every alarm we responded to, the flags were flapping in the wind. People waved and cheered. Flags were appearing everywhere.
Days after the attack, every television news program had the subtitles with some version of “America United.” After the service at the National Cathedral, we saw President Bush hugging Senators Daschle and Gephardt. All the commentators stated this is something we would not have seen in the weeks prior to the attack. One news anchor said, “Today there are no Republicans or Democrats … only Americans.” It felt good to see our country finally united. Both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly cleared the way for President Bush to utilize all powers for a retaliatory military strike. The unity we have all desired that seemed so far out of reach suddenly was secured.
As quickly as that bond of unity soared, we began to see how fragile it really was. Just 10 days after the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, we heard disturbing reports that Berkeley (CA) Fire Department officials banned large American flags on fire apparatus, fearing the trucks could become a target of the city’s vocal antiwar community. Mayor Shirley Dean spoke out to rescind the directive immediately.
Then there were reports that three firefighters from Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue found it offensive to have U.S. flags flying from their trucks because the flags represented oppression. There is some confusion as to whether they refused to respond to alarms, but the crew chief reportedly ordered the flag to be removed so that the seven-member crew could respond without incident. He did the right thing so as not to delay the response.
Politically correct rhetoric has gone unchecked long enough if we have reached the day when flying the American flag has become offensive to Americans–especially firefighters! Why is it that so many city leaders and officials are more concerned with offending the fringe instead of the concern of the masses? They tolerate flag burning as a freedom of speech and have become intolerant of waving the flag because it has become offensive!
One of the first defining moves that Gary Morris, Seattle’s new fire chief, made was to distribute decals of the U.S. flag for our fire helmets. Within days following the attack on the WTC, every helmet had one. A small fire patriotic gesture, perhaps, but the timing was excellent. He wasted no time in igniting the patriotism of the department. In a swift and simple move, the new chief united the troops, which would otherwise have taken him months or even years. We will need to be united to win this war on terrorism. Let’s do our part as firefighters to continue this momentum, stop the infighting, and keep our fire departments united.
I urge fire departments considering banning U.S. flags from fire apparatus to reconsider. I know the concern is to prevent us from becoming targets, but we already are! After the attack, I figured I better reread the Emergency Response to Terrorism workbook put out by the Department of Justice, FEMA, the USFA, and the NFA. Have you noticed the cover? It’s a sketch of the New York City skyline with the Twin Towers in it. The north tower is viewed through a terrorist’s sniper scope-in right about the same location that the jetliner crashed into its target. This book was printed in August 1997.
A firefighter commented to me that this new war will take place in American cities, and firefighters will become the new ground troops. He was right. If there is another hit, the first to fight won’t be the U.S. Marines; it will be us. Chiefs, don’t send us into battle with our spirits tied behind our backs. Let the flags fly. We need them.
If you are a firefighter in any major city, you have heard about cultural diversity. This is a sweet but firm way of saying, “Keep your biases and prejudices to yourself.” There is a delicate balancing act taking place across America to prevent unprovoked, unjustified, and hateful retaliation against good Muslim, law-abiding Americans. There is a push to emphasize what we share in common, not bring attention to our differences. What we share in common is that we are all Americans!
What does a terrorist look like? What does an American look like? Does he look like Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrani? Or does he look like Timothy McVeigh, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold? The terrorists who crashed the four planes weren’t wearing turbans, robes, and long beards. They were probably clean-shaven with short hair, wearing blue jeans and T-shirts.
Of course we are all different! Those who truly value diversity understand the contributions made by Americans from all nationalities, races, colors, creeds, and political ideologies. Our differences are what make us uniquely human. Our diverse backgrounds bring a wealth of different perspectives, experience, and talents that when harnessed in cooperative interaction form a stronger union to accomplish the greater goal of the organization. Successful and confident fire service leaders will be the ones who can manage, inspire, and lead a diverse workforce to be a strong, unified fire department. E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many … One.
America is united. The fire service is also united. We love to compete against each other. We love to brag about East Coast vs. West Coast fire departments. Engine and truck companies love to joke that “hosers” have never made a rescue from a window with a line and “pickheads” have never put out a fire with a ladder. But this time, we are all one department. We are all FDNY. The FDNY roster swelled to include every firefighter from every nation–career, volunteer, and retired.
America is united behind firefighters like never before. Floral memorials have sprung up at fire stations all over the country just so people can show their support and appreciation for the work and protection we provide to them. We are their heroes.
All this patriotism, support, and unity won’t mean a thing if it is just a month-long period of mourning. FDNY paid a heavy price to unite a nation.
Our leaders are urging us to get back to normal. Yes, to a normal routine, but let’s not lose our resolve by becoming complacent again. Let’s not lull ourselves back to sleep. The attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were a wake-up call to the new reality of our jobs. Let’s stay awake!
How do you prepare for an event like this? Who would have thought the secondary device would have been a second jetliner into the remaining tallest building in New York? The company officer who would have thought this scenario up would have been laughed out of the station and labeled “a nut.” We have to stop suppressing or reprimanding officers who think and drill outside the box. To foresee this incident, one would have to think outside the crate. There are no more “highly unlikely or unusual” incidents after this one.
We have to put a stop to our petty grievances and disagreements. We have to abandon internal territorial politics that hurt one another. Our personal problems within the department are irrelevant when compared with the magnitude of the problems and loss that FDNY and their families suffered.
Firefighters are our greatest resource. Management and command chiefs have to work hard to build, maintain, and protect the trust with their firefighters. They are like generals now. They’re not just sending crews in to fight a fire; they are sending them into a war.
FDNY truly are America’s Bravest. They soared into the WTC for rescue, like eagles … the only bird that isn’t afraid to fly in the midst of a storm. That’s why it’s the symbol of our country.
A penny doesn’t buy anything these days. In fact, it is so worthless we don’t even bother to pick one up from the street. But I dare you to pass one up now without picking it up and recalling the events and the lives lost at the WTC and the Pentagon. Because engraved on each penny is the strength, resolve, and only sure protection we have against future terrorist attacks:
* In God We Trust, and
* E Pluribus Unum.