By Mary Jane Dittmar
“Loyalty and service are not things of the past for the fire service!” Bobby Halton, Fire Engineering editor in chief FDIC education director, assured attendees at the Opening Ceremonies this morning. “Loyalty ranks high, and selfless service is first and foremost. Selfless service is our keystone value today, as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.”
Halton condemned as lies assertions that the fire service’s best days are behind her and that morality, virtue, and character no longer matter. “Virtue and character do matter!” he affirmed.
“Every firefighter knows that no conversation about the fire service can be had without an understanding and appreciation of selfless service,” Halton said. Loyalty provides us with the inner security we need to accomplish our mission, an unfaltering belief in one another and an unfaltering love of one another. All of us who have placed our lives in the hands of another know that loyalty is the value that supports us in life-threatening situations.”
Throughout his message, Halton balanced the honor and glory of the fire service’s core values and the duties and responsibilities of firefighters to continually reinforce and renew them. A great opportunity to renew these values, Halton noted, is at the FDIC, where members of the fire service are present in great numbers.
“We know,” Halton reminded those in the conference hall, “that we cannot expect loyalty without being prepared to give it as well, that leaders can neither demand loyalty nor win it from their people by just talking about it.” Firefighters, he explained give their loyalty as a “gift” only when their leaders deserve it–when they train the firefighters well, treat them fairly, and when they live by the values they talk about. “There’s no loyalty fiercer than that of firefighters who have learned to trust their leader to take them safely through danger, alongside them.” Halton related: “Loyalty is not taught in books; it is learned from example.”
Lamenting the “painfully obvious” need for role models in our society today, Halton, told the audience: “Now, as never before, we need great firefighters like you gathered here today–men and women strong enough to remain true to our values and our principles.” Of the many things we do in our lives that matter,c Halton said, “nothing matters as much as that which you do for others. Selflessness does not come and go in a society; it is perpetuated.”
On the responsibility side, Halton noted: “Firefighters are both the inheritors and the caretakers of the culture, the artifacts, and the legacy of the fire service. The culture, mission, and traditions of the fire service are bound together by an intricate and well-developed relationship between a core set of values and principles. These values have defined who we are; they are the inescapable measures of our character, and they need to be reinforced from time to time.”
Halton acknowledged that the fire service, like any institution, is not perfect. “We have suffered our losses; we have struggled occasionally with our identity and our relevance. We have won the hearts and minds of our communities on one day and have fallen short of our own expectations on another,” he recounted.
As “shepherds” of the fire service culture, Halton said, firefighters must be mentally agile, morally grounded, and emotionally connected; well-trained and well-disciplined; and must continuously strive for improvement. Halton said it would require “many voices” to shepherd this culture. “Thankfully,” he related, “our fire service is made up of an incredibly diverse group of individuals. That diversity allows us to innovate and create when necessary, to find solutions when called on, and to endeavor always to restore calm during chaos.”
Part of being good stewards of the fire service culture, Halton notes, “is the telling of stories from time to time about loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, honor, and personal courage. These stories are as beneficial for the teller as well as the hearer,” Halton noted; “They provide inspiration and reaffirm our own commitment to our values.” It is especially fitting that we should tell our stories here at FDIC, where for 87 years our values and virtues have come to life in our discussions, in our meetings, and in our training.”
Halton then presented several examples of role models whose actions exemplified the values of loyalty and selfless service. They included the following:
• Billy Fiske, a 28-year-old, two-time Olympic gold medalist in bobsled racing; an American who joined the Royal Air Force by pretending to be a Canadian; and the first American to die in World War II.
• Chris Engledrum, a Fire Department of New York firefighter and a member of Ladder 61 and former New York Police Department officer, who served on active duty in the U.S. Army in 1990 as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He reenlisted with the fighting 69th and
the first member of FDNY to die in active-duty military service following 9/11.
• An unnamed soldier fighting in Vietnam in 1965 who was out on patrol in the jungle when a burst of gunfire suddenly hit the team’s point man and wounded him severely. The other soldiers jumped instinctively behind a berm to take cover. The wounded pointman began crying out in terror and pain for help. This soldier grabbed his M14 and began to climb over the berm. His fellow soldiers dragged him back, warning him that it was a trap, that the wounded soldier was gone, and that he would get killed as well.
The point man continued to cry out, and this time the same soldier left the berm, and began zigzagging under horrific fire to get to his wounded brother. The soldiers behind the berm tried to lay down cover fire, but the enemy’s gunfire was directed on the two men now in the open together. The rescuer soldier, fatally wounded, then appeared at the top of the berm carrying the dead point man. As he was dying, the soldiers in the berm asked this soldier why he risked his life knowing that the point man was going to die. The dying soldier said: “Do you know what he said to me when I reached him? He said, ‘I knew you would come.'”
• Firefighter Joe Hofstetter, West Webster (NY) Fire District; Firefighter Mike Janeckzo of Kearny New Jersey; and Bryan, Texas, Lieut. Greg Pickard, among the nominees for the 2014 Ray Downey Courage and Valor.
“We, too, will come,” Halton concluded. “We will come because we are firefighters. We will come because we love each other.”