True brotherhood

Over the course of the past week, I have been reminded of what the “Fire Service Brotherhood” is all about. Unfortunately, it took the loss of a brother who had succumbed to a heart attack at the young age of 49 to remind me.

Mike had only been retired for a year. He was not a stranger to the firehouse or a stranger if you were at a restaurant he was at. He would stop by the firehouse almost weekly just to say hi. If you happened to run into him at his favorite restaurant, he would say, “Come have a beer with me.” Mike would do anything for anyone and ask for nothing in return. He was a true brother both on the job and off the job.

The day before Mike’s service, I overheard a conversation of a member of the department for which he worked. The gentleman talked about changing the recruits’ training schedule for the day. Brotherhood was going to be the topic of the day. All of the recruits, roughly 25, were transported to Mike’s service. The new recruits got to see, hear, and feel true brotherhood! By the end of the service, they knew who Lt. Mike Stone was and what he stood for.

Mike was an instructor in the fire service. He taught many things from structural firefighting to hazardous materials. Now, we can add one more class officially to his resume, Brotherhood! He taught one last lesson; he taught what it means to be a true brother. He brought all of us together; sat us down in the church; and, through the chaplains, showed us what a true brother is. For the new members, this was an important lesson. For the old ones, this was a great refresher. From time to time, we all need a reminder. Thank you, Mike, for one last, very important lesson.

I also made another observation while attending Mike’s service. I noticed the lack of brotherhood—the lack of brotherhood from my own department. Yes, the chiefs showed up along with the on-duty crew, and a few of us were there because we cared for Mike and his family. It is kind of disturbing that only a few people from my department showed up.

It brings us to the question, “What does brotherhood mean to you?” Do you talk brotherhood, or do you walk brotherhood?

Normally, when you hear firefighters talk about brotherhood, they are wearing dirty gear and scorched leather helmets and no self-contained breathing apparatus. They are sitting on the tailboard talking about how they kicked the heck out of that fire.

They make it seem as though the only place we experience the brotherhood is at fires. Such a narrow view saddens me. Brotherhood is a part of our lives 24/7. You cannot turn brotherhood off and on or share it with some and not with others. You are either a part of the brotherhood or you’re not. The new age is missing out on the brotherhood. To the new firefighters, it’s not the calling to the job; it’s the paycheck and benefits! Some of the new generations of firefighters are not knowledgeable about the fire service. It is up to the older generation to show them what brotherhood is all about.

This is a battle, and it is not always a young-against-the-old sort of conflict. It is about a lack of respect for the proud traditions that have carried us this far. It is about a respect for people, past and present, living and dead.

I have witnessed the concept of brotherhood deteriorate for several years now. There are several talking the talk but very few walking the walk.

The true brotherhood between firefighters must be earned; to keep it, you must stay true to the profession. You can get your issued T-shirt, radio, or union decal for your truck, but that doesn’t make you a brother. Being a member of the brotherhood goes beyond joining the department and wearing a T-shirt. Being a member of the brotherhood is about looking out for your brothers, putting them and the civilians you protect before yourself, and not just on the fireground.

Brotherhood has been around for a long, long time. Let’s not allow it to slip away from the fire service. Teach your new recruits what brotherhood is. Brotherhood is tradition. The fire service is full of traditions. We cannot wait for a brother to fall before we teach him.

We have all heard it is time for change. I propose we change the course of the fire department and bring back tradition and strengthen the brotherhood! We are all here to do the same job and serve our community. It is important for us to work together off as well as on the fireground. Let’s all learn from our Brother Mike and the final lesson he taught us: true brotherhood!

Paul Goodman
Captain
Georgetown (KY) Fire Department

Brotherhood > social media

It has become apparent in the past five years or so that social media have exploded into the emergency services arena. There have been many good things to come out of it so far, but everything has its ups and downs. There are countless training aids; scenario simulations; and communities where brothers and sisters can get together and pass along information, network, share “war stories,” and critique the photos and videos of jobs from around the country and world. It has, for the lack of a better term, become the “kitchen table” of the 21st century.

The matter of critiques has me concerned. I fully agree that there should be a critique after every job, big or small, as these sessions provide invaluable time to go over every aspect of the job. It provides an opportunity to discuss the things that went right and the things that went wrong; why we did the things we did; and how to improve on the next one. Hindsight is always 20/20, and it is good to get those things out in the open after the job. Social media can help (or hurt) in the process by enabling us to write up stories and share our photos and videos with a much broader range of people. I have seen times when great points were made and tactics were shared that could have made the action depicted easier or safer.

On the other hand, some people point out only the negatives. They want to comment, “Why doesn’t he have his gloves on while placing a ground ladder?” or “What are they doing? They’re going to kill someone!” Granted, some of these pictures and videos warrant such questions, but who are we to judge an entire fireground or department based solely on what we see in one picture without knowing the situation or events that led up to that action? Why do we feel the need to consistently bash one another at the drop of a hat? I don’t know about you, but I would have no problem explaining why something was done or not done if I were asked a legitimate question, but I hate having to defend myself to a person who wasn’t at the scene and who doesn’t know the surrounding circumstances.

Maybe that chauffeur throwing the ground ladder without full personal protective equipment (PPE) on is throwing the ladder to members on an upper floor who were just caught in a flashover and have no other way out. Maybe that brother climbing an aerial without a ladder belt is going to an upper window where a trapped mother and child are leaning out.

I agree that we all need to be as safe as possible, but as we all know, “Firefighting is an ultra-hazardous, unavoidably dangerous activity.” When we took that oath to protect and serve our communities, we knew the risk that came along with it. Sometimes that one piece of PPE missing is not there because those few seconds or minutes it would have takes to don it could have meant life or death to those inside.

Why is it so hard to say, “Good job to all involved” or “Nice knockdown, guys”? Where has the brotherhood gone? There is no need to consistently tear down our comrades. There is no such thing as a perfect fire. Every incident has its ups and downs. Some things go right, and some things go wrong. Instead of ridiculing and criticizing, commend the firefighters on the things they did right. If you think you have a better way to do something or a tactic that would have helped, share it! We can all learn from it. Don’t focus on the one negative thing in a photo.

The next time you feel the need to tear someone or something in a photo to pieces, take a few seconds to think about what you’re going to say. Remember, the next picture that goes viral just might be yours.

Brian Golle
Assistant Chief
Thorofare Volunteer Fire Co.
West Deptford Twp., New Jersey

Porn vs. marriage

Thanks so much for publishing Anne Gagliano’s article “Porn vs. Marriage” on Fire Life at http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/fire_life/articles/2013/july/porn-vs-marriage.html. It is incredibly well written and on a subject that really needs to be inserted in so many professional journals. There is more to firefighter training than just how to perform your duties on the job. I perform what I do professionally much better because I have a healthy marriage and a loving wife waiting for me when I get home!

Eddie L (Ed) Smith
Director, Emergency Vehicles Group
VT HACKNEY
Washington, South Carolina

“Firefighters should embrace Culture of Extinguishment”

This is in reference to “Culture Wars” (Editor’s Opinion, Fire Engineering, July 2013). I see nothing wrong with a service culture for firefighters, as it is the umbrella under which we perform our daily operations. The three cultures Bobby Halton mentions may not fit the strict definition of what a culture is; however, people’s fire ideology tends to fall into at least one of these cultural camps.

My call for a Culture of Extinguishment is intended to refocus attention on our primary function: fire extinguishment, which saves lives and property from the ravages of fire. Firefighters need to be disciplined and safe during fire extinguishment. A fire department that lacks a strong extinguishment culture is not servicing its community or its people to its fullest potential.

Understanding how people see the fire service is important because it impacts operational excellence, grant appropriations, fire research, and curriculum. The Culture of Extinguishment does not trample other cultures, nor does it ask for broad cultural change among the fire service. Rather, it is a self-serving quest for fire operational excellence with the realization that the cycle of poor performance and injury will continue unless we embrace it.

To expunge the Culture of Extinguishment from fire service vernacular in favor of silence will only allow some other culture to flourish and rob us of our own creation. The Culture of Extinguishment is something every firefighter should embrace, and it is up to us to strengthen it with pride and determination for future generations.

Ray McCormack
Lieutenant
Fire Department of New York
Editor, Urban Firefighter

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