It’s been several months ago since a young cop was hanging around the fire station with us. We were working in the bay and, as one of the guys relayed a phone message to me, I said, “No problem, thanks Brother.” He looked at me and said, “Is that your brother?” I told him no and explained to him that’s just what we call each other. He looked a little perplexed and I expounded on the subject further. Now, I have several Cop buddies and know that they use this term sometimes, but it made me wonder, “Does anyone else use this term like we do?”
As most firefighters read this they may ask themselves, “Do you really have to explain this?” I have to be honest and answer with a resounding, “You’re damn skippy!” The business of the fire department has become just that, a business. The bean counters and lawyers have a firm footing in our little world like a five alarm fire being fought with a single Engine company. We are determined to hold, but sometimes the fight doesn’t seem worth it. Along with the “business” of firefighting comes all sorts of new and exciting things like sensitivity training and the likes of stuff I’ve never heard. It also means working with people that just may not really understand what it is to be a “Brother” (or Sister…I’m not leaving y’all out. I promise).
The world of the firefighter is like no other. We work crazy schedules and tolerate a great deal of heartache to be part of it. It’s obviously not about the fabulous pay, nor the bucketfuls of benefits, but something most folks around us will never understand. You really can’t even explain to outsiders what it is that lures us in. Sometimes we simply answer with, “The Brotherhood”. I hate to be corny or spout some clichéd line, but it is absolutely true. It must be the feeling a kid gets when he joins a gang, except we’re a little more on the positive side of things. It’s a feeling of being needed, understood, and part of something bigger than you. It may take a little while for the new guy to figure it out, but the first time he sees the response a fellow firefighter in need gets, he’ll understand. I can promise…it will be an understanding that will wash over him like a waterfall. And it may not even take a huge event, It may be something as simple as a seeing a buddy cover another guy’s meals for a day or two, because things are tight. That’s it, though. It’s not something that firefighter ever thought about; he just does it. The greatest thing about it all is that a “Brother” will never have to ask for help; in whatever form the need is. Whether it’s a reassuring hand on your back in an inky black, hot hallway or help during a time of need…whatever, it somehow just gets taken care of. That one moment, though, when he sees it…that’s when that guy joins the Club. Yup. The most exclusive club of all, “The Brotherhood”.
Now…that being said, there are also those who will never get it. They never understand the Club and what it takes to join. Even though we spend approximately one-third of our lives together (and for you civilians, yes, we are with each other and not with our family for about 120 days a year), these folks never quite understand what it takes. A great deal of respect, selflessness, and patience must be summoned to apply. I once had a firefighter at my station overhear me call another guy “Brother” in a conversation. He confronted me with it and said” We’ve known each other for several years and you’ve never called me Brother!” I thought about it for a second and, in my not so diplomatic way sometimes, said “Well, Bubba…I guess you never deserved it.” Well you can imagine how that went over, but after a little thinking I determined he never really did deserve it. I never consciously had made the decision not to call him “Brother”; I just never did. This guy constantly complained, never pulled his weight, and was always trying to get something over on someone. So…application denied. Sorry.
So, a little word of advice to all of you new guys, or even those who are reading this and wondering, “Am I in the Club?” If you have to ask yourself, then you are not. But, I have good news; it is not too late. Go to work next shift, take care of business, and be a “Brother”.
It’s a good place to be.