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


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