Do you want to change the fire service? Let us begin with the one we can change: Ourselves!

I have witnessed a common threat as I travel in the fire service. It is one that affects the small departments and the large. It affects the well paid and the volunteer firefighters. It is present in the best organization and it is present in those that suffer from toxic leadership. It is present in every fire house on almost every shift.

What is this common threat that lurks in every fire department that many fail to recognize?

-The Sin of Ingratitude-

The calling of a firefighter is no easy task and places great strain on many of us personally, professionally, and in our faith. It can lead to health problems, divorce, PTSD, higher rates of alcohol abuse and substance abuse. 

Yet the greatest threat to the fire service is not a disease, it is not our lack of physical fitness (which is a big one), and it is not our behavioral health issues. It is the poison of ingratitude. 

When we become ungrateful for all that we have and the great privileges bestowed upon us we become cynical and hard hearted. A hardened heart is a walking dead man that spreads like the plague.

One whose heart has become hardened has forgotten the source of all their blessings. Their service becomes out of habit and not out of eagerness. They tend to lose their focus on Jesus and become weary too easily. 

Why is this so? 

Are we asking the wrong questions? 

And how do we refresh our spirits?

Isaiah pondered the same question:

“What can I say? God has spoken to me; he himself has acted. I will wander my whole life with a bitter spirit. The Lord Most High is the one who gives life to every heart, who gives life to the spirit! Look, he indeed exchanged my bitterness for wholeness. You yourself have spared my whole being from the pit of destruction, because you have cast all my sins behind your back.” (Isaiah 38:15-17)

Make no mistake, bitter individuals didn’t become this way overnight. Justifiably, they have went through many trials and painful experiences that led them to their present but not final destination.

They may have suffered great loss. (Remember Pharaoh in the Bible)

They may have been betrayed by those they love. (Remember Joseph, if anyone deserved to be bitter it was Joseph but he chose a better way).

They may have sacrificed their families for the mistress known as the fire service only to realize their mistake far too late. (Remember Solomon)

They may have suffered serious health issues…

They may have suffered all of these and more…(Remember Job)

Sadly, what failed to happen in all of these ordeals is the most critical part of any trial, tragedy, or painful circumstance which is Healing and Growth. 

Those that were affected in such a way came to God in brokenness and repentance. Remember the prodigal son-“And then he came to himself.” He only did so after squandering his inheritance and losing everything when he realized that he could repent and return to his loving & forgiving father.

Those that have become bitter may have suffered from the failure of being supported by those who have been through such struggles they were abandoned or failed to share their pain with anyone; all the while they suffered in silence. 

Rather than this great wound upon their soul experiencing healing; this wound remained open and was allowed to fester becoming a terrible sickness affecting all aspects of their daily lives from the firehouse kitchen table to their family and communities.

Rather than growing through such an experience and using such tribulations to help others who have experienced the same; a more terrible sickness developed within them.

The sickness of un-forgiveness…

This is noted by their walls built around their heart emotionally. They don’t allow anyone to close to them anymore for the fear of experiencing such painful loss and heartache again.

This is also seen, in their daily interactions. They gossip, slander, use their influence to attack the very organization that they used to love. They begin to actually destroy the department each and every day and not even know it.

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”(Proverbs 11.13)

Their condemning attitude, their bitter spirit, and their constant agenda to attack the very place that provides their monetary means for a living is obvious to anyone they encounter.

And the worst part of this sickness, is that they gather others around them who have been hurt and infect them thereby becoming a deadly virus which gradually removes the joy out of others.

Those who used to love their calling of a firefighter now are weary and long for retirement…

Those who used to be the first to want to train; would rather sit in a room and slander the very organization that provides the room they are seated in…

Those who fought for the values within the organization the most now corrupt those same values with lies, deceit, and slander…

But wait, aren’t these individuals justified? 

Shouldn’t they deserve to feel this way and be allowed to avenge themselves? Shouldn’t they be allowed not to forgive those who wronged them?

Reflect upon this statement:

As fellow Christians, we are forgiven people therefore we are called to forgive. What does our lives of unforgiveness say to others about the depth of our belief? 

 “Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Matthew 6:9-15

If we as followers of Christ pray this prayer and believe that Jesus has forgiven us of our sins and we hold others in unforgiveness we are actually condemning ourselves. 

Many of us know the great pain and suffering of trials and tribulations within the fire service. But do those experiences, those betrayals, and those hardships give us the right to destroy it?

Do we actually believe that by spreading negativity that we will reap a new harvest of positive and vibrant new generation?

Think of how absurd our logic actually is:

We think by sitting among others and tearing people apart will actually improve the organization?

What marriage would survive if the spouse constantly verbally assaulted the other for all they are doing wrong?

What church would thrive if we sat amidst the pews and slandered one another, gossiped about everyone’s problems, and complained about how the church needs to change?

This is the madness of selfish misery.

Does one seated at the table of misery who drinks the cup of poison actually believe that this cup will provide them comfort?

This is a trap of the devil and is a deception that I myself have fallen victim before. It is place of selfish misery where all we focus on is our pain, our loss, our suffering, and the wrongs that have been done to us.

But yet, we took an oath to protect lives and property no matter the circumstances and no matter the individuals differences that we would faithfully respond to their need in their moment most dire.

Yet we have abandoned them…
We have given up and given our joy away…

My friends, no one owns your attitude but you…

No one tells you how to behave daily but your heart…

No one dictates whether you will be depressed or angry…

No one but ourselves alone are responsible for our attitude…

So where does one go from here?

How do we affect those who have become intrenched in cynicism?
What do we do when we realize how bad we sound?

Consider another who walked a different path:

He loved in the face of hate…

He stood up for truth and opposed those who were misinterpreting God’s word…

He served the least even though He was the greatest…

He forgave those who betrayed Him even while dying on the cross…

And He warned His followers of the great cost of following Him..

Jesus said to them “You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. Everyone will hate you because of my name. Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. By holding fast, you will gain your lives.”(Luke 21:19)

My friends, we are called to walk a different path. A narrow and difficult journey it may be but it will be worth it. We are called to build others up and not to destroy. Let us not be dragged down by bitterness, depression, and hard times. Let us hold fast to the truth and to one another.

May we remember that anyone can point out what is wrong but it takes leadership to encourage another with words that lead them away from their poor choices.

May God grant each of us the words that others are needing to hear. May He allow us to be a part of building the future through wise words instead of careless ones.
God bless you all,

Andy Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries


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