Guest post on Motivating the Fire Service

 This is a “guest post” of sorts. I was sent this by good friend Gillian Cox, a firefighter down in Texas. This was her motivational talk at a recent fire department banquet. I enjoyed the message and delivery, and I asked her to share it with you all. As a matter of fact, I think she is sitting in “Pride and Ownership” with Rick Lasky right now. 

I wanted to invite someone to come talk to us tonight, that would talk with passion and love for the job. That would talk to us about how we could all be better firefighters, better brothers, a better department. Someone that would inspire and uplift us. Well it turns out those people cost money. And it was hard to bribe them with the beautiful weather when it has been colder here inSouth Texas, than most of the northern US for the past month! So I have consulted, and we are working on a possible visit for next year; but for this year your going to get to listen to me. And we all know that I like to talk.

I spend a lot of time reading fire service blogs, magazine articles, and other news. I like knowing what is going on in the world of firefighting, and I like sharing that with you.

Like, NO;              I love it,               I live for it.

The Fire Service is in my blood. I was born into this, I married into it, it defines my whole life. Recently I have read many articles and opinions about “The Brotherhood”. Then last week at the Emergency Corp meeting Chief Howie said “I am all for promoting the brotherhood.” I had been looking for a theme, something to talk about, to motivate and inspire this group, and finally I realized I had been reading about it for weeks!

So I began making some notes about “The Brotherhood”, and they were all questions: What is the brotherhood? Who are my brothers? What kind of brother am I? What kind of brother do I want to be? Am I worthy? And finally, how do we honor the Brotherhood?

Let me make an aside here real quick as I know some of you can’t help but find this funny. I am a woman, a female firefighter, and I am talking about a “brother”hood. Well lets just get over it, I am proud to have been called a brother, and to feel a part of the brotherhood. It is about the concept, the idea of being a part of something greater than anyone individual, regardless of our gender, age, race or other segregating identifier.

What is the brotherhood?

How do I know it when I see it, or feel it? Here are some examples I found from other firefighters:

Brotherhood is keeping your word.

Brotherhood is telling your partner, “Hey, you screwed up.  Let’s train on that so it does not happen again.”

Brotherhood is tough, it’s standing up and doing the right thing, even when that’s not the most comfortable or most popular thing to do.

Brotherhood means that when in need, you will leave your ego in your pocket and do what needs to be done…whatever that means.

Brotherhood is the firefighters in Edinburg that dropped everything and assisted long retired brother Jim White from Overton, when his wife passed away while they were visiting for the SFFMA Convention. Those men left work and their families and the Convention they had helped plan for 5 years; to drive over a 1000 miles round trip to escort Jim and his wife’s body home. They volunteered, I believe 6 of them went, it didn’t take 6 people, one or 2 could have done the job, THAT is brotherhood.

But the final example is a quote that paints the clearest picture of all: If you were to take a firefighter and strip them of their badge, remove their turnout gear, peel their skin back, and remove the organs, the brotherhood is that small fire that continues to burn inside of them. That small fire cannot be extinguished, cannot be contained, and cannot be taken away. It is what makes you a firefighter and you must not for any reason let personal feelings hamper any decision to help another “Brother”.

Who are my Brothers?

Personally I do not feel that the title or certification of Firefighter, or police officer such as our guests here, necessarily makes you a brother. Being a part of the Brotherhood is something you have to earn, and it is something you can lose. It is a delicate balance to maintain the integrity the senior members have earned while allowing rookies to earn their place at the same time, all while weeding out the nonbelievers.

The title “Brother” is given to you by those whom you have earned their respect, and to those whom will earn YOUR respect through their actions, and work ethic. In today’s society everyone gets a chance to play the game, and everyone is considered a winner. Well the Brotherhood is old school, if you want it you have to win it, and then you have to hold onto it with all you have got. The Brotherhood is something we must take care of, and keep safe.

What kind of brother am I? What Kind of Brother do I want to be?

I feel that Brotherhood is exemplified through actions, not words. Being a brother means that we think it, feel it and live it. When training is offered. we take it. When a hand is needed, we offer two. When something goes wrong. we find ways to improve and fix it. We take extra time to clean the apparatus, because it makes US feel proud of it. We are careful with equipment and funds because we OWN it. On a daily basis we are proud to be a brother and we show it through every action we take and word we speak.

Am I worthy?

Not everyone in this room is a brother. Some may never be, but I hope that if you leave here tonight with one message it is this: I want to be a brother.

I want you all to be my brothers, and I will work to earn the same from you.

Finally, how do we honor the Brotherhood?

The simplest quote that I noted on the topic of Brotherhood didn’t come from the FDNY or the LAFD or even from a firefighter at all. It was Malcom X said “I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.” So who here is willing to find that street and walk it? Who can you inspire, lift up to join you and become your brother? Help them with a project at their house, invite them to come workout with you some evening, put a hand on their back and tell them “I’ve got ya.”……. And mean it. During a eulogy of Captain Frank Callahan, FDNY Captain James Gormley said this:

Some people equate camaraderie with being jovial, it is anything but…camaraderie is sharing hardship.  It is shouts and commands, bruises and cuts.  It’s a sore back and lungs that burn from exertion.  It’s heat on your neck and a pit in your stomach.  It’s a grimy handshake and a hug on wet shoulders when we’re safe.  It’s not being asleep when it’s your turn at the watch.  It is trust, it is respect, it is acting honorably.” How could I possibly have put it any better than that? Let us recognize that it is not about the nights like tonight; it is about being there when we really need each other, without question, and without fail.

In Ladder 49 John Travolta’s character finds his crew fighting when he returns from notifying the family of a fallen firefighter. He chews into them, telling them they are not honoring their brother, he says “we get back on the goddamn truck”. That is how we honor the brotherhood. We DO IT, we train, we respond, we take care of each other.

Tonight we are here to celebrate and award our members for their commitment and dedication to this department throughout 2011. I am humbled by the sacrifices some of these recipients have made to the department. Next year maybe we will be honoring every member of this department. Challenge yourself to set a personal goal this year, and exceed it. Challenge yourself to be a better fire fighter, better member, a better brother. If not you, then who? If each of us tries, each of us gives a little of ourselves to build that bond of brotherhood, we will become a stronger, more proud, and better organization. I hope I have infected you all tonight. Infected you with the brotherhood virus, may it simmer slow or may the fever be fast, I hope you all feel it, live it and pass it on.