Surviving the Fire Service: Part 2

Surviving in the Fire Service: Part 2 Matt Barnes & Andy Starnes

Exploring the Warning Signs

Andy Starnes: The following a collaborative effort from two fire service professionals whose goal is to give a different perspective on our lives as firefighters. My views are based onapplying biblical doctrine to the fire service in a way that is applicable and hopefully opens my brother’s eyes of where we can all improve upon. This particular writing was inspired from the book of 2 Peter. “Warnings have many forms: a light, sirens, sounds, etc., but with all their varied forms their purpose is the same-to advise alertness and give notice to danger. One reacts differently to an impending storm that to an on rushing automobile or the counsel of a trusted friend” (NIV commentary on 2 Peter).  There is an internal attack going on in the fire service today and it is of two terrible words: complacency and hypocrisy. We will explore some of the warning signs of these behaviors and how to be proactive from a faith based perspective.

Matt Barnes: In general, what happens when we become complacent? We begin to slack off, no longer staying on our toes, and we don’t expect the unexpected. There’s no way that can be of any benefit to us in the fire service. Sadly,complacency does exist in the fire service today and it often leads to us getting hurt or killed. I’ve heard of stories where the‘Probie’ comes into a house and the vet’s are complacent. They don’t want to do any training, they don’t want to teach, and they don’t want to learn anymore.

Andy Starnes: “In some cases, lives will hang in the balance- and the firefighter making these decisions must be fully aware of the consequences of his/her actions” (John Norman) How often have you taken the time to look at the true consequences of complacency? How many LODD, NIOSH, and injury reports have you read? Have you looked closely at the number of firefighters struggling with cancer? We cannot prevent every injury or illness but we can make a proactive effort by realizing the power in these words “you can never train enough for a job that can kill you-Rich Gassaway.” Do you love your family enough to realize that every moment you are not learning or improving that you are setting yourself up for failure?

As a firefighter, our calling is one of servant hood, sacrifice, compassion, and courage. The day your badge is pinned to your chest isn’t your moment of arrival; it is the mere beginning of your journey. It is the beginning of a disciplined pursuit of becoming the best you can be; not for reasons of recognition but for the mutual benefit of being able to serve your fellow man in a moment of need.  As my friend has already mentioned, we have all seen firehouses with members who are quite content to come in and do nothing but draw a paycheck. Their negative example ultimately can poison a new firefighter’s future if not corrected. Think of this for a moment: Do you know a firefighter who is ineffective and unproductive? They did not become that way over night. I would wager that they started out with a passion for this job. What happened to them? What is their home life like?

Matt Barnes: Let’s switch gears for a second. You’ve spend many hours at the firehouse, just eating, watching the game, and joking around.  There is no need for you to do your clean up because the Probie does them for you. Once you get off of your shift, you go home and do the same. You then neglect yourhusband/wifely duties. You don’t do chores because “Hey, the kids will do them.” Or how about you say you’re going to clean the bathroom, you promised your spouse you would go to church with them, or you have let your projects in the garage to just collect dust. Now, hopefully that’s not you. It’s easier to do nothing and say you’ll do something than to actually be proactive.  But like your career in the fire service that has become complacent, being a hypocrite can kill your marriage, and kill your tranquility at home and ultimately kill your character.

Andy Starnes:  The lapse from a passionate firefighter into the becoming of a mere employee is a slow and dangerous fade. It happens for a variety of reasons and primarily because we let someone steal our passion. I have been often told that if my faith is based on circumstances and not on my hope in Jesus it will not last. That being said if my passion to be a firefighter is based merely on my paycheck or surroundings I will quickly fade into mediocrity. We have all been guilty of placing our hopes in an individual. People will disappoint you but that should not be our justification for becoming complacent. How do you light a fire back in an employee whose main concerns are: what are we eating, what’s on TV?, and when do I get to take a nap? Restoring their passion is the answer. They have to believe in what they are doing and view it as a true calling. Confirming one’s calling isn’t something that happens overnight. It is by living our values not by mere lip service that builds credibility and often draws others to you to see what keeps you going.

Matt Barnes: How about hypocrisy? You say you want to train, you intend to work out, you intend to learn your tools of the trade, but you don’t! No you have forgotten what to do in a hoarding situation, you have gained weight and are out of shape, and you have even forgotten how to effectively use your irons. Why? All because of these two deadly poisons that can get you or someone else killed. You let them win. What happens to everyone goes home?

Andy Starnes: Let’s face it. You are known by your actions. In life, people look at your actions and see if your words match up with your life. Too often, especially in the fire service, our words don’t match our actions. How many trucks do you see with every fire sticker known to man boasting every certification or ability imaginable? Then you see them at a gas station andyour mouth drops as you see them struggling just to get in out of their truck due to their obesity. This is a slap in the face to our “public trust & confidence”.  How are we to save others if we can save ourselves? When our abilities don’t match our image you ultimately lose respect, trust, and confidence by all those around you at work and at home.  Consistent and daily examples of your values are best shown through your willingness to take the high road each and every day (especially when you don’t feel like it). Committing oneself to a godly pursuit and fervently doing so each and every day will cause people to take notice. They will follow you and they will ask for your guidance.  Why? Because the light that is shining through you if far more attractive than any “EGO” will ever be.  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God’, without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the skyas you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16)


Matt Barnes: The life of a firefighter is a dangerous one. Our own die in the line of duty, we can become suddenly placed on medical leave and our home lives can slowly wither away. Yes, it sounds like a tough job. It sounds, unreal. It sounds dangerous. Well that’s because it is. It takes a lot of strength and courage to be a firefighter, but it takes even more of that to make sure that your spouse and children don’t feel neglected. Do you remember the amount of effort that you put into getting that promotion or getting on the department? Do you remember that same effort that you put into gaining the attention of your spouse? We have to make sure that “both our houses” are well take care of. It’s our job to make sure there is as little stress in both of these places with the hopes of growing old with each other.

Andy Starnes: What is the underlying motivation that you will find in a firefighter who is consistently at the top of his/her game? First, they are the same person they are at work as they are at home. You have probably met those firefighters who act one way at work and are completely opposite at home. They are “double minded and unstable in all they do”(James 1:8).  I was once that way myself. I found myself torn between two worlds. I felt as if I was a hypocrite to my family as I tried to be a good man at home and was a perverse loudmouth at work looking at pornography every chance I had. I had to realize that to be at peace I had to make a choice. My family deserves a trustworthy and honest man. God broke me of my old habits and by His grace I am striving to be a “better man” at home and at work every day.

My friends, your values determine your relationships and thereasons for almost everything you do.  Faith, goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love are all listed as qualities that if you posses in “increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8). I am tired of being ineffective and tired of seeing this in others. I choose to encourage and look for ways to help my brothers/sisters on the job to “reignite their passion” for the job while nurturing a relationship with Christ. This is what will bring them peace and strength.

Matt Barnes: Let’s do all that we can to make sure that we stay on our toes, bring that same willingness and eagerness that we had from the start, and continue it throughout our days here. Remember, everyone’s life depends on it! My shift depends on me to know what I’m doing and how to do it well. My wife depends on me to come home safely and take care of my husbandly duties around the house. My daughter depends on me to come home, take her fishing, and let her ride the fire truck. Sometimes it’s hard work, but in the end it will have its rewards.

Andy Starnes: “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”(Colossians 3:23)  Whether you believe in God as I do; you have to believe in what you do and the importance of being ready in this profession.  A professional is viewed by others as worthy of respect and their value isn’t based by the appearance of their uniform but in the quality of their work.  You can tell a difference in someone who cares about what they are doing. They care about every detail and it shows. They don’t view cleaning the firehouse as beneath them. To quote a wise friend “My job is to kick the fire’s ass and mop the downstairs bathroom”.  This is the mark of true firefighter. They understand that they are a part of the team. They understand that others are watching and the importance of setting a good example. It is not for the sake of appearances. It is so that they can cultivate the values that will allow others to grow in the fire service and at home. Our reward is not here. Look in the eyes of those you love every time you go home. This is the beginning of your reward. Stay safe and remember we should never be satisfied with minimum standard. Our citizens and our families are depending on us to be exceptional.


Surviving the Fire Service, Part 1: It takes more than training

I was raised in a good Christian home by two loving parents. I am the older of two children. My Father worked a full time job and volunteered at the local fire department in our community. He dedicated countless hours to the community that we lived in. As a young boy, the way I spent time with my Father was to go with him to the Volunteer Fire Station. I grew up in the halls of an old brick, five bay building that hosted community fish fry’s and barbeques to keep the fire department running. I watched as men and women gave of their time, talents, and their own personal monies to benefit the good of the community that we all lived in. As I grew up, I noticed a common trait in each person. Each person who volunteered as a firefighter didn’t show up for recognition or financial reward. Every one of them truly cared about their community and they proved it day after day by their consistent sacrifice of their own personal time. They would come together in times of crisis and great need, putting all of their differences aside, and would work as a family to take care of the situation. These individuals had problems, family issues, weaknesses, and faced many struggles but they never let that stop them from serving others. This is what makes the fire service unique.

How many jobs do you know of that if the employees were not paid they would still show up for work? I know of one. There are 1,100,450 firefighters in the United States today. 756,400 of those firefighters do not receive a “paycheck” for what they do. These are our volunteer firefighters and they are the backbone of the fire service. I can say that I am blessed to receive a paycheck for what I do. I was raised in the volunteer service and was told “Find a job doing what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I have been employed now “doing what I love” for 15 years.  It has been an amazing journey thus far and I look forward to the next 12 years of my career.

I came to a point a few years ago where I lost my drive and passion for the fire service. I let circumstances and certain struggles drain the very life out of me. I was at a crossroads where I had never been before. I contemplated leaving the fire service.  God was gracious to me and renewed my spirit. I rededicated my life to Christ seven years ago and I also have renewed my passion to “work hard and cheerfully at all that you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely your masters,” (Colossians 3:23). I have found an inner desire, a constant pull on my heart, which drives me. This desire comes from fulfilling of your personal calling. If you feel called to be a firefighter then this article is for you.

In the beginning: The Calling

How did you come to be a firefighter? I have told you my story. What is yours? What drove you to pursue this endeavor? Take a moment and ponder this question: Have your motivations/reasons to be a firefighter changed over the course of your service? Do you feel called? At this point, some of you may stop reading because you don’t feel a spiritual connection to what you do. Maybe you don’t believe in God and maybe you don’t believe in being called but I challenge you to take a closer look at the job description of a firefighter for a moment. Look deeper than the skills, tactics, and bravado. Look past the “no fear stickers”, the firefighter models, and the hero awards. What makes a person want to sacrifice their time, effort, money, and even their life for little or no pay with no thought of recognition?

 “God asks that all that follow His will do to so by using their callings in ways that help others and witness to God’s love for humanity. Each person will have a “gift of the Spirit” to use in his or her calling. There are two kinds of calling. The first is to worship God alone and to believe the gospel, namely that salvation has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The second is to live for God through active use of gifts and talents, serving others and renewing creation.” (Big Ideas of the Bible-Mark Fackler)

Are you actively using your gifts and talents, and serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity? My friends, if you are a firefighter, you are doing just that. Some may view this as heretical but I ask you to look at the “what” you are doing each and every day as a firefighter:

Confirming your Calling: Serving the least, the last, and the lost.

A few examples of serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity:

At 3 am when the bell hits to assist lift an invalid off the floor because his wife can no longer lift him, her family has abandoned her, and she tearfully thanks you. When you are overhauling a rundown old house that caught fire and you take the time to carry a pair of shoes out to a crying child next to a single parent who just lost everything. When a citizen knocks on your door at the fire house, asks for help, and you sit to talk with them for an hour because that’s what they needed most. When you care enough to go back to check on a citizen who lost a loved one, after you did CPR on them and you tell them “We are here for you no matter what”. Does any of this sound like compassion to you? Is this required of you? No, it is the values that are instilled to us as firefighters that come from within. “The King will reply, truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Some firefighters deliver service, others deliver compassion and care while helping others. These men and women exemplify servant hood and hold the title of firefighter as close to their chest as the badge is as close to their heart. No other profession would ask of you in your interview “Do you understand that you could possibly be injured or killed during the course of your career? Do you understand that you have a dramatically higher risk for cancer (50% higher than the general population), divorce, depression, and your life span may be shortened due to unforeseen health problems? Do you understand that you are committing to serving our citizens no matter what their belief, race, creed, or problem may be? Do you understand that you will be asked to perform your tasks under the most stressful circumstances when you are tired, sick, and/or hungry? Do you understand that we are not looking for an employee? We are looking for a firefighter…Do you still want the job?

More than just a job:

In the corporate world, you may know your co-workers but I would wager you never will know and trust them at the level firefighters know each other. You eat together, sleep together, and hang out off duty together, work your side-line together and you help each other outside of work when needed. Firefighters come to each other’s aid in their own department and outside of their department. Brothers & sisters who suffer tragic loss, face terrible disease, or who are killed in the line of duty are looked upon by fellow firefighters as their own family. Firefighters travel great distances to attend funerals, donate bone marrow, provide relief efforts, fill in at other stations and the list goes on and on. With all of these examples of compassion, courage, integrity, service, sacrifice, and generosity do you honestly believe that these characteristics are developed through a hiring process? No, they are God-given values, inherent to what we do, instilled in us by our creator. Anyone who does this job for any length of time, even if they do not believe, will tell you that it takes a special individual to do what we do. That “special individual” is one who is called, leaned on by the Holy Spirit (even if they don’t recognize Him), and pushed to give back more than they are given even in the face of great adversity. They feel compelled to “love their neighbor” because they believe in something greater than themselves. Have you felt that inner longing, that drive to do more, the pulling on your heart that tells you that this life is more than just being successful. That feeling you have, that we often ignore, is the Holy Spirit leaning on you, calling you, and telling you “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.(Hebrews 13:5)” A friend of mine said it best. How do you know if you are called? If you can do anything else, anything else at all and be happy…He is not calling you to this profession. If God is leaning on your heart, you will know it. You will only be at peace when you come to understand that He wants your heart.

Understand this simple concept: Just because you don’t believe in God, it doesn’t mean He that he doesn’t believe in you. A firefighter, serves those in their most dire moment of need, without thought of recognition or whether or not they like the person they are helping. Who does that anymore? Look deep within your heart, be still, and understand that you were made for a purpose. This purpose can only be fulfilled through a relationship with Jesus. We live in a country where we are free to worship, believe what we want, and say what we want. My goal in writing to you is not to offend you but to share this message with you: God loves you, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God didn’t send His son to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 3: 16-17) Open your heart to Jesus today. Fulfill your calling and He will allow you to do great things by serving others like never before. All I ask is that you consider  what you are already doing is a mere reflection of what you truly could be through Christ.

God Bless & Stay Safe

Your brother in Christ,

Andy J. Starnes