Great question, right? The proud and long tradition of the fire service and its perpetual state of public trust is a good place to start. In recorded history firefighters have always been at the beck and call of the public since the ancient Romans.
Our profession is one of service and sacrifice. We are at the burning end of a very long drag of firefighters who came before us. Firefighters who, like us, raced through their own streets, flung buckets of water, rode horses, pumped steam engines and rescued the citizens in their community from peril. They wore the same uniforms, spoke the same language, took care of their equipment and grew sweet mustaches.
The firefighters before us had horrible safety equipment and the odds were insanely stacked against them. With no respiratory protection and heavy leather helmets, they paved a road filled with tears, sweat, blood and spirits. They earned the public’s trust with black noses, singed hair, dirty hands and gravestones. I am humbled when I think of just how badass those guys must’ve been and yet because of their sense of selflessness, WE, today’s fire service, continue to bask in their glory. With the pull of a hook, the tap of a wire or the ring of a phone we have always been there. That’s where public trust came from and that’s where pride begins.
Pride is that internal feeling that guides our actions. It’s a force that pushes us to polish the bumper, spray, shine our tires and ensure the readiness of our equipment. It’s why we train together, live together and eat together. Those who share the collective pride will forge a common trust with one another. That trust pushes men and women to continue the proud tradition of the fire service; it’s the pride that drives us. Firefighting has always taken a level of commitment, loyalty, honor and a sense of family that isn’t common these days. But for those that have made the commitment, they hold a legacy of those who paved the road ahead, just enough, for us to take the reins and replace it with Allison transmissions, Jake brakes and seatbelts. We may be safer, more educated and better equipped but the job remains the same. Pride is the only mechanism that has held us up for hundreds of years; it’s our fuel and our guide.
As I stand on the highway surrounded by twisted steal; I’m clean-shaven, wearing my Kevlar/PBI blend turnouts, plastic helmet, bright florescent green safety vest and eye protection, I feel completely removed from the dirty and difficult glory days. As far apart as these two worlds appear, we are still at the public’s call and just like the firefighters that came before us, we will be there, fueled by a common pride to serve the public in need and to honor the sacrifices of those firefighters before us.
In 1959, Kurt Vonnegut coined the eloquent, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity toward man than a fire engine.” And I can’t think of anything more correct.