Every time one turns around or a new member joins the fire service, we preach about tradition and history. But, is it truly productive discussion, or just lip service? Are we really teaching our new members what they need to know in order to get where we are going? Or are we leaving that space between their ears empty, never truly understanding about the heroic deeds, blood, sacrifice, sorrow and triumph that have accumulated over the past 250 years?
There have been many books and seminars that have touched on this subject. Some of the authors and presenters even to claim to be experts. Although I do not doubt their wisdom, can they truly be experts about “YOUR” local department? Can they tell you about the dedicated men and women who have made your department what it is today? For most departments, this information is not found in books, but rather in the minds and hearts of the old leather lung salts who are a part of your volunteer “coffee club” or members of your union local’s “retirees section”.
There are a few givens in the fire service history beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s formation of the first volunteer fire company. It’s known that most major cities started forming into paid departments just after the Civil War a trend which lasted into the turn of the century. It’s also known that without the creation of leather riveted fire hose, the American Fire Service would not have the aggressive reputation that we have today. And if you look deep enough, you will learn that fire trucks are red because the color signifies courage. And finally, back in the early 1800’s, the volunteers of New York City had a sort of live-in program that is now popular in the Maryland area today.
Reading that last sentence, I believe it’s safe to say that in a number of cases, what is once old…is new again. Think about how many people in this country are pulled from the throat of fires every year. Do we think that this is something new? Of course not! It’s a heroic action that has been going on since interior firefighting first emerged.
So, with that being said, I urge you to go ask your less-senior members questions about the history, not only about the American fire service, but of your OWN department. How much will they know? I’d bet not a lot. However, I do not believe it’s their fault.
You see, the real issue here is “progress” or at least that’s how people like to refer to it. Take an article I read a few months ago. It spoke of changing our culture, from a Fire Suppression to a Fire Protection culture. I thought to myself, “haven’t we already done this?” Are we not handing out smoke detectors, inspecting buildings, pushing sprinkler codes and other life safety initiatives? We‘ve been doing it for over a generation now, so the culture has already changed. Does that mean that it is correct? Not necessarily.
We see fewer structure fires now than any time in recent history, yet our LODD numbers remain at the same levels. So with fewer fires, should we continue to focus more on fire prevention and less on structural firefighting? I say no, because it robs the younger generation of firefighters of valuable hands-on experience, that they can not receive due to the decreased fire load in this county.
America will always have fires; so let’s stop acting like we can put an end to it all By reminding the public to stop, drop and roll. The firefight will continue, and in my humble opinion, We need to re-establish our core values. This can be found by looking back into our history.
People who are pushing the kinder, gentler fire departments, are the same ones who are ignorant of our culture and history. (or — the same ones who have chosen to ignore firefighting culture and history.) These are the same folks who preach about risks, serving the public and life safety, and they act as if those who went before us never considered these issues.
Our History has become the thing that many in the fire service fear the most. They push us away from being aggressive interior firefighters opting instead for exterior blitz attacks. Fact is, we can be aggressive and remain safe simultaneously!
So please, I beg you, teach your younger firefighters about the history of your department. Make them aware of the pride and ownership that the men before us had. There is still time to re-introduce our past, but we need to do it soon before we lose the extremely valuable substance that make us who we are today.