“The Great Contradiction of the Fire Service”

The fire service is one marked with a long tradition of service, sacrifice, teamwork, and compassion. Many departments across our country are volunteer organizations that operate with little funding or support from the community or tax base that they protect. Approximately 1,000,000 firefighters of the 1.2 million total firefighters today belong to volunteer fire houses. Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, love what they do. It is calling to most and can at times be one of the most rewarding pursuits. Many firefighters make great personal sacrifices daily such as their time, money, and dedication; all so that their community will be protected. What then would you say is contradictory about what we as firefighters do? 

I have had a great burden laying heavy on my heart for a number of years now. This burden is this: I see that we will often lay our lives down for someone else’s life or property but many of us refuse to overcome the problems within our own departments or fellow firefighters. It is a common theme that is seen almost everywhere you go. A Fire House will often have the majority that gets along well but inevitably there will be a few individuals that no one would help if even if their life depended on it. 

My friend and mentor Chief Peter Lamb sums up perfectly in the following statement:

“So your fire department has morale problems? Everyone does! But make sure that you have a morale problem and not a loyalty problem.”

The wisdom in this statement for us is that many of us will complain and have issues but are we loyal to our department, to our leaders, and to our fellow firefighters? If not, the problem isn’t a morale problem, the problem is a gratitude problem. We haven’t forgotten to be thankful for what many would consider the greatest job in the world. 

Consider a husband who reports for work and while he is at work he constantly complains and belittles his wife. Yet while he is home he says nothing and does nothing about their problems. What does this say about his loyalty to his spouse and their marriage? Does this cause others to think negatively about his spouse, about him, and about their marriage? Consider the analogy as we report to the fire house and “love” our job yet all we do is gripe and complain about “our” fire department that we supposedly call the greatest job in the world.

Why is this? Where have we gone wrong? Are we merely figuratively living out this profession but if someone calls us out, would we lose the courage of our convictions? Are our principles only as deep as our pride or our paychecks? 
Would our loved ones admire our words and actions toward our fellow brother and sister firefighters that we are currently demonstrating?

I compare this problem this to my own spiritual walk as a Christian. It has been said that we should all carry a sign over our head that says “Warning! Under Construction-God’s still working on me”. Thus, we often tend to forget where we came from and lose all compassion and or sympathy for any behavior that we refuse to tolerate any more. T.D. Jakes has said “Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you get to burn down the school”. 

My friends, if we are to truly honor the calling we have answered we must follow it with no exceptions. This applies to our family first, our co-workers second, and the citizens we serve third. It means that we are to take care of one another and not destroy one another. Our very existence is for the sole purpose of saving lives and property yet we see the commonality of discord and negativity within the walls of fire houses across the country. And we can’t proclaim a belief that we don’t practice! When others see our negative attitudes and poor choice of words our credibility has been lost. We have effectively led them down the same dark path that we are walking.

Many would say that the citizen’s we serve come first and our mission statements indicate that this is true. Yet if we fail to take care of our family’s, and take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health, are we truly taking care of our citizens if we aren’t at our best? We are often someone’s only hope when we respond in an emergency. Have we considered that we may be someone’s only hope and that someone may be the firefighter who sits next to us?

Let us ask ourselves: 
What are we doing to save their life?
Are we living out our values and mission statement inside the four walls of our firehouse and our homes?
Are we leading others astray or are we preparing others to take our place by giving them the best that we have?

If you have found yourself in the uncomfortable position of feeling convicted about your own behavior as I have perhaps it’s time to begin the process of treating others the way you would like to be treated? Perhaps, we should realize whether it’s the homeless person, the millionaire, or the co-worker that we don’t get along with we are called to serve others not serve ourselves. This takes great courage to not respond when we are treated harshly but to treat them with respect. This takes integrity and a solid moral foundation that we stand upon. For myself this foundation is my faith. 

I am reminded of the following scriptures when facing these challenges:

When our work ethic exceeds others why should we continue to work hard? 
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17). We have to realize who we are working for: Our organization or God Himself? In my faith, I have to remember that Jesus Christ is my boss and my work ethic ultimately reflects my dedication to Him and not to man. Therefore by putting God first, we will have a greater and more sincere work ethic because we understand the great responsibility we have as followers of Christ.

When others treat us badly, why should we treat them kindly?
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). We have to remember that when we forgive others it is not for them. Forgiveness sets us free from the burden of carrying around bitterness and realizing that when we fail to forgive we ultimately are condemning ourselves. Take a moment and think of someone you know that has a bitter and cynical outlook. Have you possibly considered that they have suffered greatly and are dealing with the issue of un-forgiveness? If you thought of someone, you have just found your next assignment. Therefore, we can have the greatest peace in the midst of conflict by realizing that even when others hurt us we can be free by forgiving them. This can often open doors in previously closed relationships.

When we are in a bad situation and our attitude begins to suffer, how do we stay positive when everyone else is negative?
Consider Christ’s Humility and Exaltation in Philippians 2:5-8:
“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” Jesus chose to respond with loving servant leadership in the face of a hurting and negative world. Consider the impact that has had on the lives of 2.2 billion believers since that day?

In closing, remember that we are called to serve others and that our service should begin with our family and our fellow firefighters. If we fail to treat them with kindness and respect how insincere will be our service to our citizens? If we cannot reconcile our differences we are ultimately dividing our team and diminishing our effectiveness as firefighters. So let us take up the challenge of being morally courageous and treating others with kindness and respect no matter how we are treated. For this is true courage, to show love to those who need it most, those who hurt us with their words and their actions. We may see that their actions or words are a front for a hurting heart. We will not compromise our beliefs nor our integrity but we will bear the scars of one who has carried our cross to a hurting world that will often hurt us.

If these questions have provoked something within you and you feel led to do something about it let us consider how we can change the fire service by beginning with our speech. Start holding ourselves accountable for the current and future behavior of the fire service by beginning with the one person we can change: ourselves!

God Bless,
Andy Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries


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