By Michael Morse
One important thing I learned about the fire service and the brother (sister) hood; you get exactly what you put into this job. Expecting miracles without doing the work is a fool’s game. Expecting something as magical as true brotherhood to form between strangers thrust together by a common vocation is ridiculous. I had heard of this near mythical brotherhood and looked forward to being part of it. I envisioned cookouts, parties, groups of firefighters painting each other’s houses, camping trips and fun. What I experienced was far different. I was never treated differently than anybody else; I survived the pranks, pulled off a few epic ones of my own, felt the camaraderie in the station, especially after a “good” fire or a heartbreaking job. Bonds like nothing I ever imagined were formed on the apparatus floor, when all we could do was not enough and we could barely find the strength to climb the stairs and get on with things.
But I was different. A few months into my training academy I was called into the Chief’s office. My wife was on the phone. She had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and was devastated. She didn’t know what to do, so she called me. The Chief sent me home. I returned the next day, after a long night at home and picked up where I left off, sort of. Everything had changed. I think I grew up that day, and realized that as great as the brotherhood promised to be, some things are more important.
The people I spent the next twenty five years with gave me the space I needed to take care of things at home, and to pursue promotions and much needed overtime through my branching off to the EMS division with minimal torture, and for that, I am forever grateful. I wasn’t available for much after work socializing, and didn’t participate in many activities that create the bonds that become the brotherhood. But I never felt excluded or harassed because of my lack of involvement. And help was readily available if I asked.
Anyway, that is my story. There are hundreds of others; some people spend their career right in the thick of things, get involved, create lifelong friendships, help a brother in need and accept help that is offered. Then there are those who for no apparent reason stick to themselves and go about their business with no expectations, regrets or animosity. Sadly, some people spend their career cynically expecting something that they never worked for.
My advice to the firefighters who believe that the brotherhood is a myth? The only way to be a brother is to BE a brother. The Brotherhood exists, make no mistake about it. It may not be exactly what you expected, but it is there if you seek it. It will not come looking for you. A lot of firefighters lament the loss of it, but believe me, when you need it, if you take the time and make the effort; it is there, just as it always has been, and just as it always will be.
But it takes brothers and sisters acting like brothers and sisters for the magic to happen.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.