By Michael Morse
“If your job is so dangerous, why on earth would you let your kids follow in your footsteps?”
Sometimes you have to let questions go unanswered. There are not enough words in all of the languages to express the pride, dread, worry, excitement, and validation felt when a child follows in your footsteps. You could never adequately explain it. Firefighting is dangerous. Far too often firefighters lose their lives doing the job. None of us wants to die, and we certainly do not want our children to die or even get hurt. But die we do, and we get hurt all of the time, and our injuries are not always wounds to the flesh, and still, firefighting is a family affair.
We know how it feels when all we can do is not enough. We live with the mental images of what can go wrong in an uncertain world. We know exactly how fragile life is, and how quickly it all can end. Yet every one of us, every career firefighter, every volunteer, and anybody who has ever worn the gear and rode under the lights and sirens knows, without doubt, that if the people we brought into this existence choose to do what we have chosen not only will we approve, we will do everything in our power to make our child’s vision a reality.
Firefighting is the life we have lived. We are fully aware of the danger and the hardship. We know that there will be dark days ahead for most, if not all, firefighters. We know there will be injuries, self-doubt, and regret when things go wrong. And things will definitely go wrong during a career in the fire service; there is no way to avoid it. We also know that by facing the terrible things we will see and healing from the injuries we endure that we will grow and become grounded in the reality that life at its most raw brings joy as well as sorrow. By bearing witness to all that goes wrong, we will learn to see all that is good in a new light and hold onto that good with all we have and nurture it, appreciate it, and never let it go.
Life is short. When we are kids our days seem endless, and weeks crawl by. As we age, and count our time on earth in years, then decades, we begin to see just how quickly it all passes. In our youth, we are fascinated with possibilities; anything is possible, and the world is ours for the taking. As life progresses, we learn that it is not about what we take; rather, it is what we give that matters. As parents, we learn that taking everything we can to achieve happiness is a fool’s game. We know that it is in the giving where true satisfaction derives. The fire service provides the perfect opportunity to find purpose, contentment, and the elusive happiness that every person craves. To give our children every opportunity we can imagine, including but certainly not limited to the opportunity to pursue the life we have led, is the greatest gift we can give them. Denying them the chance to experience it because of the inherent risk is simply not an option.
Sometimes we have to risk everything or live with the regret that not taking a chance breeds. Some people can live with that and leave the risk taking to others. Theirs is a sheltered life, a safe life, a life often lived without passion. It is not the life that we have chosen; and, make no mistake, we are the ones who choose to live the firefighter’s life. Our children, should they choose to follow our path, make that choice as well. Nobody can do the job without wanting it, and nobody can make another person want it. If the people we brought into this world have decided that they wish to follow in our footsteps and live the life we have chosen, they do so because they have seen with their own eyes, felt with their own hearts, and know with their intellect that firefighting is worth the risk. We do not “let our kids follow in our footsteps.” They have seen for themselves what a firefighter is and have chosen to follow our path into the fire service and create their own footsteps along the way.
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.