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.