Tactical Safety for Firefighters: Chief Croker Wants You!

By Ray McCormack

A recent article I read had a quote, “Would you want to work for this guy?” from a noted member of the fire service supporting a theory that to work for “a guy” like Chief Edward Croker was to embrace and expect line-of-duty deaths. It’s easy to take a shot at a man who is no longer here to defend himself, however Chief Croker embodied not only a firefighting spirit but true empathy for the citizenry and his firefighters and had nothing but distain for firefighter deaths.

“We strive to preserve from destruction the wealth of the world, which is the product of the industry of men, necessary for the comfort of both the rich and the poor. We are the defenders from fire of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men and the means of the refinement of mankind.”

That doesn’t sound like some sort of cavalier disregard for safety, nor do some of the chief’s other famous quotes. Chief Croker lived in a time when things were vastly different and yet many things still remain unchanged. Today’s fire service is still doing battle in many of the same building from his day. Chief Croker was the chief of the department of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) a hundred years ago. Firefighting is still the same in many respects, both physically and emotionally. Many think now that firefighting should be considered secondary to other duties. Don’t think that’s possible–read the stats that say we do other types of responses more frequently. While for many that is true, are you willing to forget you are a firefighter? Because when you forget that, you’ve lost a lot more than memory.

“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.”

Taking this quote in stages, you see so much truth and pride in his people. This man understood our trade, for even the best safety record breaks and joining this profession is a choice. Doing our business does not evoke a willingness to die, but rather a selfless pledge to help those in need.

Firefighting is dangerous stuff. Can we all agree on that, at least? Lowering the danger or managing it is done through intelligent and timely tactics. But you must also have the stomach for this scary thing we do. Some people do scary stuff at fires, from the incident commander to the senior firefighter and between, some of it witnessed, some of it unseen. Haunted houses are scary, too, but you know what to expect–the unexpected. The same goes for structural firefighting.

Chief Croker was not some careless (incident commander) fire chief who disregarded firefighter safety. Even if his quotes bother some, remember that you are reading words that have stood the test of time because they are meaningful and they are words firefighters understand, appreciate, and admire.

Chief Croker worked on a second career, one in fire prevention, after witnessing many deadly fires, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Chief Choker saw that a lack of prevention was at the root cause of much tragedy.  That doesn’t sound like the kind of leader that would have callous disregard for his people, does it?

“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling. Our proudest moment is to save lives. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even of supreme sacrifice.”

This is not a clarion call to get killed at a fire. This is a reflection of what firefighting is about–firefighters putting their lives on the line to save others. Chief Croker incorporated nobility into firefighting in both words and deeds.  There would be no higher honor than to work for a man like him.

Thanks for reading Tactical Safety. See you in the fall; enjoy your summer.


Ray McCormack

RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.

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