Remembrance and Purpose

Did you forget why you signed up?

By Dave LeBlanc

Originally published 25 June 2014.

No matter whom you ask, June is a tough month for the fire service. From the Vendome in Boston to the Super Sofa Store in Charleston; Fathers Day in Queens to Steve Minehan in Boston, too many firefighters have paid the ultimate price in this month. There are many more, and this is not meant to be a complete list. Certainly some of these have more impact based on where you live and how old you are.

No one death is more important than another, and to the families and firefighters affected, nothing can make the pain of their loss go away. Yet they find a way to go on, move forward and remember their fallen the best way they can, by living their lives. The firefighters learn what lessons they can, then pass them on to new firefighters.

The proud service, the one we all joined of our own free will, is in crisis. Some seem to have a problem remembering why they stepped up, why they swore and oath. They seem convinced the main mission has become too dangerous, and the risk is not worth the reward.

Probably one of the biggest disservices ever done to the fire service was hanging the moniker “inherently dangerous” around its neck. Since then it has been used too frequently, by too many, as an argument for more safety or as a bat to remind those firefighters the risks of the job.

Inherently dangerous, who talks like that? Do you tell your children that it is “inherently dangerous” to cross the street without looking both ways? Of course not, instead you teach them to look both ways and cross with care. Some may teach them to never cross the street, just like some would train their firefighters not to enter burning buildings for the risk of getting hurt is too great.

Somewhere along the line, a change has come over the fire service. We have gone from being the noble knights, that stand between fire and our citizens, to being more concerns for ourselves and our well being. Our rookies are being taught that we come first, or they come first, instead of those we serve. We are being told that property is not worth a life, yet we are telling those we serve that we will no longer uphold our oath.

“Everyone Goes Home” has become the latest catch cry. A statement so bastardized from its original intent that its creator, Dave Gallagher, barely recognizes it. Everyone Goes Home has become the most misrepresented, most misunderstood and most abused statement it today’s fire service. Everyone Goes Home was coined by a firemen that understood that not everyone goes home, but like the military we will leave no one behind. We will bring them all home, learn from the events and then push on. He understood that we must train harder, and be prepared. We must be professional, and like professionals take our craft seriously.

Since then it has become the most cited phrase, by everyone. It has become, in the eyes of some, as an excuse not to do your job. If you go to work thinking that your safety comes first, before those you serve…yes SERVE….then you not only misunderstand the original intent of EGH, but you should seriously consider a career change.

Take what actions you can to ensure you and your crew come home from each call, build your safety into your training, but train to do your job, to take calculated risks and to protect life and property. Because if you aren’t doing that, then you had better explain to those same people you serve that your mission has changed.

You see, if we are not serious about putting out fires, about accepting the risk that comes with this job, and about doing our best to be prepared for whatever happens; well then not only are we letting ourselves down, but we are putting our lives and the lives of those we work with in danger. If we are not serious about putting out fires, then tell the Town Fathers to hire more DPW workers, and get rid of some firemen, because we won’t need all those fancy trucks and people to clean up the smoldering hole that is left when we are done.

Risk – expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.

Danger – the possibility of suffering harm or injury.

Harm – physically injure

Loss – the fact or process of losing something or someone

Avoidance – an act or practice “avoiding” or withdrawing from something

Transfer – an act of moving something or someone to another place.

Act – take action; do something

When we avoid risk, to be safer, we are in fact transferring that risk onto someone else. Because we recognize there is danger, or the potential for loss or harm, doesn’t mean that we lessen that potential for injury or death for anyone else. It means that we have identified the potential for injury. Unless we act that risk will still exist and all we will have done is transfer it or increase it for those affected.

Yet when we raised our right hand, we swore we would accept that risk, protect those people and their property. We swore to serve them, to be honest, to be prepared and to make a difference when it was needed most. That is our purpose, and that is what we signed up for. That is what all those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in June, and every other month did.

If you really want to honor those that have fallen, then do as Old Gallagher says, “learn what you can from their death, and then push on.” We owe it to them, we owe it to our citizens, we owe it ourselves.

“EGH, Everyone Goes Home” is not always possible, it is part of what we strive for. It is why we train, it is why we read, it is why we interact with each other. We need to share the knowledge. The more we share, the more we pass on what we have learned, the safer we will be. The fewer funerals we will have to go to, the more of our Brothers and Sisters that will go home. Because it is all about protecting each other.” FOOLS International Acronyms

“You can do everything right on this job and still get killed.” Captain Paddy Brown, FDNY 3 Truck RECON

“Let no mans ghost come back to say my training let me down.” FDNY Training Academy

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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