Brotherhood: Passing on Fire Service Tradition

by Martin Hamrick

The world we live in today is full of fast-paced activities, super-sized meal deals, and $3 gasoline. Although we may make more money than our parents, the dollar is not worth as much as it was in the past. Even our children are “growing” at an accelerated rate; my daughter is four years old and is learning things in preschool that I didn’t learn until the first or second grade.

With this in mind, where will the fire service be in the next 10 to 20 years? We all have heard the terms “brotherhood” and “tradition” since joining the fire service. To some these are just words spoken during new hire orientation; to others, they are a matter of pride and a way of life. In the past when people left the military, they joined the local fire department. It was a good fit for them–the sense of brotherhood, tradition, and the willingness to serve others has roots in the military as well as in the fire service.

The probies nowadays are products of the computer age and Generation X. For the most part, they are pretty intelligent, but many do not understand the “old ways.” I’m not saying that the old ways were necessarily better. In the past, some bad habits existed, such as not wearing SCBA. But the old traditions of the fire service and the sense of brotherhood must carry on. It is up to us, the veterans, to make sure the new firefighters learn this.

The television series Band of Brothers dealt with a brotherhood formed in training and forged in combat. The characters performed above and beyond what was required of them, because they knew that their brother’s life was at stake. They could not afford to make mistakes. They depended on each other. Even after it was all over, they continued to be a tight-knit unit. Brotherhood is much the same in the fire service, but I feel that it is losing some of its luster. I hear the word brotherhood used only when it’s convenient or in some way benefits the speaker. Many of us rarely, if ever, think of our coworkers after we have completed our shift. There is too much going on: “I have to go to my other job” or “I have something to do with my family.” There is nothing wrong with either statement, but is the fire department not part of your family?

And, there are other complaints: We don’t make enough money, and so on. What kind of example does this set for the young firefighter? What kind of example do you set for the young firefighter?

It is very hard not to be influenced by the negativity of those who have been jaded in some way. I was very lucky when I started. As a probie, I served under a very good shift commander. I looked up to him, and he helped mold me into what I am today. Under the guidance of good fire officers and senior firefighters, I learned why this is the greatest job in the world. I learned quickly what brotherhood was all about. Coming onto the job, I didn’t know anyone. I came from a small town and a rural volunteer fire department and was very proud to be a part of a “real” fire department. On my third shift here, my mother fell ill with cancer; the guys at my station went above and beyond to help me–someone they had just met–cope in a very difficult time.

In rookie school, I earned the “Outstanding Rookie” award. Also, I met a person who showed me the kind of firefighter I wanted to be and how to accomplish that task–namely, never stop learning! Later, I became reacquainted with an old friend. He was the “new man,” and I tried my best to show him the ropes. However, I think I learned as much from him as he did from me. We experienced the pride of being “truckies.” I am very proud to call all of these firefighters my “brothers.” I know that on or off duty I can count on them and that they can count on me. That is brotherhood.

Some fire service members fail to continue their education after they leave rookie school. That is a big mistake. The fires we fight are changing, as are the tactics used to fight them. The frequency of structure fires is diminishing because of newer modern construction methods, but fires are hotter and the atmosphere is more dangerous than ever. We must train on the fire we will face in the future.

The mission we are called to perform is changing, too. Technical rescue and hazardous materials are areas we can’t “master” on the job. They are “low-frequency, high-risk” activities that we must train and be ready for. And, this is in addition to EMS and “routine” calls. The days of just fighting fire are over.

It is the company officers’ job to make sure their crew is ready. Whether it’s an engine, truck, or rescue company, the crews must know their job. If they don’t perform as expected, the officer should help them out, not knock them down. That is brotherhood.

If you are the best you can be, it will help those around you to be their best. The speed needed to do our job is a by-product of efficiency, which comes from training and practice. Resist the urge to cock back the recliner handle. Get up, and be productive, even if you simply sit around the kitchen table discussing how to fight a fire in your district or go over the equipment on your apparatus. Do you and your crew know how all of your equipment works? The fireground is not the place to find out. The next time you use the term “brother,” remember this Bible verse: “Man hath no greater love than this, to lay down his life for his brother.” John 15:13

To me, brotherhood means that my brother firefighter can count on me, and I on him; teaching and encouraging the young firefighter to be better than I am; always saying, “Follow me” instead of “Do as I say, not as I do”; and spending time with my fellow firefighters and their families away from the job.

What does it mean to you?

Martin Hamrick, a 12-year veteran of the fire service, is a member of the Jonesboro (AR) Fire Department Training Division and an adjunct instructor for the Arkansas Fire Academy and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management Hazardous Materials Division.

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