On Firefighter Training: Being Your Best Is Their Best Chance

By Brian Brush

I came across this picture by fire photographer Glenn Duda (www.allhandsworking.com), and it put me on my back. I have been complaining about the most mundane things, begging for big calls–I have even gone as far as to say that I am sick of spending so much time training and preparing and no time being truly tested. What a fool I am! I am pretty sure this firefighter would give anything to trade this lifeless child for a PowerPoint® presentation. I also know as a parent that I couldn’t imagine someone out there who would want to be “tested” by my family being trapped in a house fire. I have completely lost track of what I am here for. This job is not about proving something. The only thing I need to prove is that it doesn’t take someone’s nightmare to keep me motivated. As far as being tested, that comes every day when petty items of frustration at the department offer a distraction from the mission staring at us in this picture.

I should be praying that no family or firefighter is ever put in the situation captured in this picture. At the same time, I must recognize that when I took this job I swore to service and acknowledged that this call could be my next one. Because of the gravity of the first and the potential of the second, I must do everything in my power to be prepared physically and mentally. In the end, the only thing I can imagine that would be worse than walking this child out of her house, in front of her parents, to a waiting ambulance would be to think that I wasn’t her best chance. I am not too perfect to admit that this slap in the face, this gain of perspective, won’t be permanent. It was just a few years ago that one of our firefighters carried the body of a seven-year-old out of a house fire, in front of his parents, to my ambulance, and yet I still have sunk to this level. Maybe it is that similarity that made this photo sting so bad. I considered myself a professional, committed to the fire service and well prepared for what may come my way. One picture and a reflection back to how easily I have forgotten how I felt the night I saw this with my own eyes has me questioning how I measure things.

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.” Chief Edward Croker put this to rest in 1918. Committing to this profession, paid or volunteer, is where it starts. From there, a good firefighter isn’t measured by his time on the floor above; it is how he handles himself in between. A good firefighter has a heart full of pride and dedication regardless of his station assignment and call volume. These are the firefighters pushing themselves in a gym, on the drill ground, or in a classroom because they refuse to wait on the real world. The best firefighters are those who proudly embrace the profession as one of preparation, knowing full well we do battle with complacency and egos more frequently than we ever fight fire.    

With that said, I have a lot of head-down, mouth-shut work to do before I am considered a good firefighter again. In the end, that is what this is all about. The boy we lost seven years ago never gave it a thought, but all his parents would have ever asked of the fire department is that we would be at our best when they needed us–a simple request from those we truly work for, and a simple goal for me to work toward. I hope this serves you all in some way. I feel it is a small atonement for my inexcusable attitude. All I ask from you is that when it wears off and I fall back into my bear trap (the kitchen table rant), you send this back to me.

I don’t know if this picture will ever be you. I hope it never comes my way again, but it just as easily could be today. Best practices would be to stick with what we do know and police each other when there is doubt. Hard work always pays off, and being our best is their best chance.

BRIAN BRUSH is a lieutenant assigned to Company 10 at West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colorado. He began his fire service career in 1996 in Northern California as a volunteer. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency services administration and an associate degree in paramedicine.

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