Photo by Eric Norberg.
By Michael Morse
10. When a firefighter acts like a fool, the rest of them put a stop to it right quick. Funny thing about firefighters: When one does something stupid, the entire profession is tarnished. We are held to a higher standard. That’s okay; we’ve earned it.
9. Firefighters don’t care what color, race, gender, shape, or whatever you are; if you can do the job, you are one of them. You don’t have to be the greatest firefighter who ever donned the gear, but you are expected to be competent and to be as good as you are capable of being.
8. If you are unable to do the job and are in need of assistance, firefighters are willing and able to do it for you, every time, without question. Some people are great teachers; others are wonderful cooks, landscapers, scientists, bird watchers, or the million other things that people excel at that make humanity so miraculous. Firefighters possess a lot of those skills, but their most important skill is problem solving when chaos rules–and their willingness to do so for total strangers. That, above all else, sets firefighters apart.
7. Firefighters can cook; a few of them can actually do it quite well. People who never learned to cook never had to take care of themselves, and a people who never had to take care of themselves could never take care of the public they are sworn to protect.
6. Firefighters do housework. Every day. All of them. Together. Firefighters don’t expect others to clean their messes. They are as adept at handling a mop and a broom as they are an ax and a pike pole. Any fire chief who climbed the ranks has cleaned toilets, polished brass, scrubbed the apparatus floor, and done the dishes. Respect is not given, it is earned.
5. Firefighters know exactly where they are going and how to get there when the bell tips. Every time. Everyone. It’s one of our things, and we all expect the others to get us there when it’s their turn to drive.
4. Firefighters don’t fall apart when they are needed the most. Somebody needs to be there to keep the wheels of civilization turning. Somebody needs to be the one whom panicked people look toward when all appears lost. Somebody has to keep cool and keep things together or, when it unravels, do their absolute best to put things back.
3. Firefighters run toward trouble, not away from it. When the public is running away from whatever catastrophe has befallen them, it is reassuring to look over their shoulder and see the backs of the firefighters running toward it. For some, it is all they have to hold onto, and many will never forget that image for the rest of their days. Leading by example, showing what humanity is capable of, providing hope and direction; it’s not something firefighters are aware of, it’s just who they are.
2. Firefighters fight like family, love like family, and treat each other like family. Whoever said blood is thicker than water has never squeezed pressurized water through an old pump into three attack lines and a master stream, charged those lines on command, opened a straight stream inside a fully involved basement, knocked down a wall of fire, drained feeders on a freezing January night, packed a hosebed on a sweltering July afternoon, scrubbed those lifelines on Sunday morning, and drank the cool elixir of lifelong friendship when the job was done. Water is thicker than blood when you are a firefighter.
1. There is no job too difficult, no obstacle too hard to overcome, no living creature unworthy of a firefighter’s best effort, and no excuse for not doing your damndest. Every time.
Firefighters, when among other firefighters, are free to speak their mind, say ridiculous things, be biased, be politically incorrect, get angry, fight, argue, break for lunch, save a life, polish some brass, and argue some more. Then they get on the truck, work like mad, do nearly impossible things, trust the person with whom they were fighting with their life, risk their own life to protect each other, put it all back together, and finish the shift, only to do it again tomorrow.
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.