How many times have you heard a firefighter say that “he” forgot where “he” came from? My question is, do we all know where we actually come from? In our fast paced world many new firefighters have absolutely no knowledge of their own fire department’s history. I am not sure if this is due to a lack of interest in fire service history or a lack of mentoring from the veteran members of the department. If you have never read “Pride and Ownership” by ret. Chief Rick Lasky, I highly recommend purchasing a copy. Chief Lasky discusses several points about how we enable firefighters to take pride in what they do and to own a piece of the department.
I can remember growing up in Jackson, MS and every time a Q-siren would wind up I would listen for the other firehouses. I could identify them from the house, first Engine 19 and Truck 19, then Rescue 17 followed by Engine 7 and 16. I loved the sounds of Q-sirens throughout the city and when I was younger I remember watching many working fires. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy hearing the stories from the past and learning about the history of where we all come from. I recently saw one of these iconic Jackson, MS pumpers in what appears to be it’s final resting place and can’t help but think of all the stories that rig was a part of.
One of the greatest qualities of our fire service is the deep rooted traditions established from our history. Unfortunately, I have noticed a trend in many departments moving away from these traditions. For some reason we have begun this idea that you only wear a Class A uniform for a funeral. If we constantly walk around in BDU’s and t-shirts with dirty duty boots do you think we deserve the same respect our ancestors had? I am not saying that we shouldn’t adjust our tactics to correspond with the challenges we face today. I am saying that our fire department’s desperately need respectable traditions brought back. If the members of the firehouse are wearing dirty uniforms and riding on a pumper cluttered with disorganized equipment then the new hire will follow that same “tradition”. It is extremely hard for new members to take pride in what they are doing if they are embarrassed by what they see. I played football in the SEC, one of the most challenging conferences in the country, and I was fortunate to play for Coach David Cutcliffe. Coach Cutcliffe would always tell us “Leave this place better than you found it.” We need this mindset in the firehouse.
If you are a young firefighter take the time to ask questions to the veterans, they will appreciate your interest. If you are a veteran it is your responsibility to instill this interest into your crews. You owe it to the ones who came before you. If your department still performs ceremonies and traditions, I applaud you. If your department does not, then be the firefighter that helps bring them back.