Are you Superman, Batman, or “Don’t Care”?

As firefighters, we would like to believe that we all wear a big “S” on our chest and the recliner in the fire station is the only kryptonite we will face. I think that we all have been there before—while putting on our gear, we thought or even said in a deep Christian Bale voice, “I’m Batman.” Although Superman and Batman are fictional characters, they still have a place in the fire service.

About 10 years ago, I was on a training fire when I noticed a pump operator tighten his intake cap. When I asked him what indications led him to discover the problem and find the solution, his response was, “I felt it and just knew how to fix it.” I was astonished by this concept. I wasn’t taught in my driver/operator course, “Just feel the truck and you’ll know how to fix it.” It sounds ridiculous; but, it’s second nature for this firefighter.

There are three types of people who become firefighters. The first type I call “the Superman.” For these individuals, the fire service comes naturally. If you will remember, Clark Kent didn’t have to pretend that he was Superman; that’s who he was. These firefighters are extraordinary people who would have been successful at many professions but just seem to excel in one. The Superman types will always inspire us with their ability to adapt and overcome on the fireground or on emergency scenes. Sometimes, their decisions may even seem effortless because for them, it’s instinct; that’s how they were built and it’s a part of who they are, just like Superman.

The second type is a “Batman.” Unlike Superman, he wasn’t born Batman; he became Batman. Through the events in his life, he evolved into a superhero. He continues to learn from his experiences and grows stronger as a superhero. These individuals spend countless hours critiquing and analyzing every angle in hope of even the slightest chance to improve. This type of individual represents the majority of the fire service members. I recall a colleague who was amazed to find one of his off-duty firefighters behind the station trying to figure out a way to improve the hydrant operations for their engine companies. Being a Batman in the fire service isn’t a bad thing.

What motivates these two types of personalities to become firefighters is the desire to help others no matter what the cost. Where they differ is in the process they use to solve problems. Just because you’re a Batman in the fire service doesn’t mean that you will live the billionaire playboy lifestyle. Often, we Batman types struggle at being Bruce Wayne in the same way that Superman had a difficult time pretending to be Clark Kent. I suppose that being a hero takes a toll on us and, too often, also on those we love the most.

The last type of firefighter is “don’t care.” These individuals are not heartless and do not lack empathy or compassion. In some cases, they can be excellent firefighters, outstanding company officers, or even great chiefs. If I had to assign a superhero type to these individuals, they would be more like Will Smith’s character Hancock from the 2008 film. If you can recall the movie Hancock, he was fully capable of getting the job done but lacked ambition and the desire to serve others. What separates this type from the other two types is their motivation for joining the fire service, which might have been the work schedule, the prestige that comes with the job, or power. Whatever appealed to them about this profession is not what brought the rest of us here. Which type are you?

Benjamin Williams


Indianapolis (IN) International Airport

Article basis for training

We are deeply appreciative of Frank Montagna’s “High-Pressure Steam Incidents: What You Need to Know” (Fire Engineering, June 2017). We used it as a “toolbox talk” on how first-response teams would assess the site and their limitations in an emergency. Thank you.

Jean-Claude Robichaud

Central Heating & Cooling Plant


Gatineau, Quebec, Canada

Shiny example for fire departments

I have been a reader of Fire Engineering for more than three decades. I found the article “Physical and Wellness Program,” by David W. Schramm about the Abington (PA) Fire Department (Volunteers Corner, December 2017) very worthwhile in an era of recruitment, retention, and safety challenges. It is a “bright beacon” for elected officials and emergency response agencies to follow. The “cost-sharing agreement” and the detailed process for administrating the annual examinations are useful “guides” in creating a meaningful risk-reduction plan. This proactive plan is a modern template that makes sense for the betterment of the “whole community.”

William Shouldis

Deputy Chief (Ret.)

Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department

I think there may be a problem with my training program (cartoon)

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