By Rick Lasky
Please allow me to introduce myself. I am your firefighter. I’m the one who shows up at the firehouse for my shift, and I’m the one who shows up when the pager goes off. If we passed each other on the street, you most likely wouldn’t recognize me. My face may not be familiar. But rest assured, I am your firefighter. I am a brother; a sister; a mom and a dad; a son and a daughter; and, yes, a grandfather and grandmother.
I am writing to you in an effort to clear up some misinformation. You may have heard lately that firefighters make too much money or don’t want to respond when the rooftop siren on the firehouse wails, that they don’t care and have lost their grip on the true meaning of being a firefighter. Rest assured, they haven’t. They still very much do care and do more to stand that post than ever before. We train in the skills of firefighting; emergency medical services; hazardous materials; specialized rescue; and, yes, in weapons of mass destruction. The list is long and can range from the basic to extremely technical. We do not sit around the firehouse and play checkers like you may have read in a children’s book. We stand ready to respond to your emergency no matter what it is. You see, I am your firefighter.
We sleep in a firehouse or with a pager next to our bed at home, ready at any moment to respond to someone in need. Our response to those who need us is done so without prejudice. We don’t perform a credit check or make you submit an application. We respond to your needs immediately without regard as to who you are or what status you carry in the community. We take care of the wealthy and the homeless, and we will treat your children, your grandmother, and your home or business as if they were our own. This is not a practiced or trained skill but a way of life for your firefighter. To us, it’s not a job or even a profession; it’s a calling–one that involves the thrill of helping others in their time of need. You see, I am your firefighter.
It’s not a new job. We’ve been there for you since Benjamin Franklin decided to create the first volunteer fire department. The position has gone from that of prominence to that which people look down on, to that of hero after our country was attacked to once again to those who have too much. Let us be clear in this area as well when it comes to having too much. Most of us work two jobs in an attempt to put food on the table or into a college fund. We miss a lot of our kid’s soccer games, recitals, birthday parties, and so many special moments that are gone forever to either work that shift or make that call. We work on Christmas and a long list of other holidays and run out the door when our children are opening their presents from Santa. When you wouldn’t think of giving up one of those special moments, we do. We stand ready for you. Yes, it is a choice we made, that of serving others, but it was a choice made without promise of wealth or personal gains–just that of taking care of others. You see, I am your firefighter.
And can we address that of being a hero? You see, those of us who serve or have served as firefighters do not consider the position that of a hero. We will admit the task does require acts and deeds of bravery at times; it comes with the work we love to do. Again, we’re just moms and dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, who just want to make a difference in the communities we serve. We have never met a firefighter who said, “I can’t wait to be a hero today.” All they want to do is serve others, take care of people, and have a belief in “family” that is paralleled by few. They are values driven, not money driven, so please do not read this wrong. Firefighters are some of the bravest people we know, but there is a difference between an “act” and a belief in something special. To them it’s not about being a hero; it’s more about being guardians, those which support family. You see, I am your firefighter.
We paint, clean, maintain, and mow the grass at our firehouse not as much because it saves our taxpayers money but because it is our home. We realize that a firehouse has stood within a neighborhood as a place of safety for decades, a place where a senior citizen who is lost and can’t find the way home can go and find help, and those helping her will treat her like she was their own grandmother. A place where a child who is scared, lost, or being followed by a bad person can go and find protection. Please understand to a firefighter their firehouse isn’t just another building; it’s their home and a symbol of what is right within a community. It’s a building where we train together, prepare to respond to your call for help together, and for some where we eat, sleep, and spend a third of our lives together. It is where we stand ready for you. You see, I am your firefighter.
We realize that each time the economy takes a downward turn, the first thing they say at city hall is, “What can we cut in the fire department?” and we once again will do more with less. We will always try to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar and save money wherever we can, but there is only so much you can do with less. You can line the street with as many fire engines and ladder trucks as you want, keep in mind that fire trucks don’t fight fires, firefighters do, and we need them to be successful at serving you.
We’ll change your smoke detector battery free of charge, make sure that there is no carbon monoxide in your home waiting to harm you or your loved ones, and we’ll walk with you through your home, helping you identify areas that need to be addressed for your family’s safety. We stop along that dark roadside and help you change a flat tire because you are family and we would never leave a loved one stranded along the road. We read to children hoping to promote literacy and to help them understand that reading is just not important but can be fun too and those that can read do well in life. We conduct fundraisers to help those in need and give little children fighting cancer a ride on our fire engine because we know that 30 seconds of your life can change another’s forever. And if you’re ever wondering just how important a firefighter is in the life of a child, the next time you’re in your local bookstore, go to the children’s section and count how many firefighters, fire engines, hook and ladder trucks, and ambulances you see in the books there. To a child they are a hero, but more importantly a mentor and role model, again, a person who values family. You see, I am your firefighter.
It may seem that I am a bit partial when it comes to firefighters, but please don’t look for an apology. I am that way because I have seen firefighters risk it all for those they do not know and in some cases for those who could care less about them. I have seen the biggest of them kneel down next to and help an 85-year-old grandmother who has fallen for the fifth time this month with such care and compassion that you find yourself choking back tears. I have watched them bring life into this world, save lives, and many times do everything in their power, to the point of exhaustion, to save another’s life, only to not be able to do so, and I have heard them cry. Yes, firefighters have feelings and yes, they cry. You’ll never see it, because they’ll do it when they are alone or in the bunk room sitting on the side of their bed. It’s after they’ve done everything to breathe life back into that baby or to cut someone’s daughter out of their wrecked car or after they have lost a fellow firefighter in the line of duty. It’s not normal to see what a firefighter has to see or do what a firefighter has to do, but they do it. They do it because they want to serve you. They want to stand that post for you and your family, to be there for you all day long and for you long after you go to bed. You see, I am your firefighter.
In closing again, firefighters don’t do “it” for the recognition. Yes they are proud of what they do, but don’t try to give them medals or accolades. They’ll just tell you they were doing their job. They have a passion for serving others and are not looking for rewards. Maybe just decent tools, equipment, and protective clothing to do their jobs. The training that keeps them prepared to take care of you and your family and the staffing they need in order to make that happen, and once in a while the secure feeling of knowing that they’ll be able to continue volunteering in your community or working in that firehouse, without the fear of cuts or closings. They won’t ask for laser beams, fancy titles, or for a “room with a view.” To be honest they already have the best view in the house. It’s from the firehouse down the block from your home. The one that allows them the privilege and honor of serving you and your family. You see, I am your firefighter and we will always be there for you!
From…a dad, husband, son, brother, a firefighter.
RICK LASKY is a 34-year fire service veteran. He retired as a chief for the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department in 2011 after serving there for 12 years. He began his fire service career as a firefighter in the suburbs on the southwest side of Chicago. While in Illinois, he received the 1996 International Society of Fire Service Instructors “Innovator of the Year” award for his part in developing the “Saving Our Own” program. He served as the co-lead instructor for the H.O.T. Firefighter Survival program at FDIC for more than 10 years, is a long-standing editorial advisory board member for Fire Engineering magazine and also serves on the FDIC advisory board. He is the author of Pride and Ownership—A Firefighter’s Love of the Job (Fire Engineering) and is the co-host for the Fire Engineering Talk Radio show “The Command Post.” He has an AAS degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University (CSU) and was selected as the CSU 2012 Distance Education and Training Council Outstanding Graduate.