Honor Enough


The cover of this month’s magazine shows a color guard providing final honors for a reason. It is not uncommon to hear firefighters say or write that they feel that the public no longer appreciates or respects us. It is often in reaction to some type of budgetary decision by a municipality caused by today’s economic conditions. These budgetary decisions generally involve reducing our pension benefits and pay, furloughing or browning out companies, and-in some dramatic cases-laying off firefighters and closing fire stations.

The question that needs to be asked is, do these decisions, as misguided as we know they are, truly reflect a declining level of admiration for firefighting? Are they an honest reflection of the level of respect the general public has for the fire service? Or are our perceptions being clouded by our emotional reactions to the decisions by policy makers who fail to see the unintended consequences of being penny-wise and pound-foolish?

When decision makers are confronted with declining revenues, they often make choices that are painful directly and indirectly. One hopes that these decisions are always made with the best interests of the community in mind. Human nature being what it is, it is hard not to personalize decisions that directly affect us and that we feel are jeopardizing the welfare and well-being of our communities.

When we react, and often we must react, it is critical that we remain true to our values, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage. When we react to protect positions, stations, or well-deserved benefits, it is so important that nothing in our conduct embarrasses or tarnishes our reputations or the hard-earned honor of the fire service. We should do nothing that would in any way discredit us or appear petty or bitter, for every firefighter knows that this is the greatest job in the world and that we are blessed for having had the opportunity to serve as firefighters.

Undisputedly, the most important thing we firefighters need to protect and treasure other than our family and faith is not our home or car or pension or 401(k). It is our reputation, our character, our honor. Our personal honor is a direct reflection on our profession’s honor.

When we present ourselves in public and in private, it is critical that we always remember that the fire service’s reputation is the result of the selfless sacrifice of tens of thousands of firefighters who have come before us. We must also remember that it is critical that we carry ourselves in a way that honors their memories. The same things that inspire us about the great firefighters who came before us also inspire the general public.

There are many jobs that provide service: There are food service workers, janitorial service workers-all types of service workers. However, for those other service professions, there is an expectation that the server will be remunerated in some direct way-generally, in the form of money and, occasionally, with some type of recognition as well.

That is not how the public sees its firefighters, its police officers, or the military. They see the value of selfless service in us; they recognize that selfless service is the value that drives us to complete the mission, sometimes at the price of the ultimate sacrifice of ourselves. They recognize that to have this type of selflessness, one must be incredibly courageous and must have a deep sense of duty and a tremendous respect for human life.

Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” There is not a good firefighter who has ever served who did not loyally express dedication to our values.

Firefighters are not driven by the expectation for recognition and reward; neither are our brothers and sisters in the military or law enforcement. What drive good firefighters are a sense of duty and a sense of loyalty to the community and one another. What motivates us and what will continue to garner the respect and admiration of the general public was expressed very well by an Air Force captain named Scott O’Grady.

In 1995, a young Captain O’Grady was shot down during a flight mission over Bosnia. Using everything he learned in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, he managed to stay alive and make contact with U.S. aircraft flying in the area. He was rescued by helicopter after surviving six days of being hunted by hostile ground troops.

He returned home to a hero’s welcome, but he denied being a hero. Looking back on what drove him to serve his country and to do his best to represent it with honor and personal valor, he said, “It isn’t the reward that matters or the recognition you might harvest. It is your depth of commitment, your quality of service, the product of your devotion-these are the things that count in a life. When you give purely, the honor comes in the giving, and that is honor enough.”

In every city and town, village and county, firefighters are displaying acts of ordinary and extraordinary courage, loyalty, duty, selflessness, and honor. As we ready ourselves to read the pages that follow, we should remember that on February 22, in Bryan, Texas, flags were folded, as the one on the cover, for Eric Wallace, 36, and Greg Pickard, 54, and that Greg Pickard’s final act, his attempt to save Eric Wallace, was one of loyalty, duty, courage, self-sacrifice and honor-honor enough!

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