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The fire service today is under more scrutiny than it has ever been in memorable past, firefighters arrested for stealing and selling scheduled drugs or other illicit substances, firefighters being terminated for engaging in sexual acts while on the clock, and even members in high ranking positions stealing money from the fire department coffers to name a few. The public has long viewed the fire service as the heroes, the guys who always act with integrity and pride to the right thing even if no one is looking. It only takes a few to spoil whats left for the rest of us, and for our public to turn from respecting us to disdaining us. For the rest of us, we often try to do our best as firefighters and emergency medical service providers, but sometimes our complacency gets the best of us, we forget what we are fighting for and our integrity begins to take a lapse.

About a year ago, I made a decision to try something new that I wasn't quite sure of, to join a fraternal organization of men who dedicate their free time to help make other men, better. This fraternal organization is known as the Free and Accepted Masons or Freemasons for short, you may know them as the people from the Nicholas Cage "National Treasure" movies, but there isn't anywhere near the secret hype and hidden treasures as these movies would make it out to believe. There is no grand hierarchy that secretly controls the world (at least not in masonic organizations, we are far too splintered for that). What Freemasonry is, is an organization that utilizes symbolism (the square, the compass and other traditional stone mason tools) and allegory (the construction of King Solomon's temple) to give men the tools and lessons to live a better life in front of their particular creator and the rest of mankind. 

Where these two very different entities (Fire Departments and Masonic Bodies) tend to meet is in their dedication to their communities and making their world a better place. All firemen (a gender-neutral term used by one of my favorite FireEngineering contributer's, Mark VonAppen, to describe those dedicated to our craft, not just those who wear the gear and do the job) have a deep-seated desire to make their communities a better and safer place to live and all Masons want to make their communities better and stronger places to live and prosper. At first, all of the funny-talk these weird old guys said and some of the rituals they performed were kind of strange, but after I got to understand the meaning behind every action, behind every ritual, behind every word I knew that being a mason was just an extension to my fire service life and my dedication to serving my community as a fireman.

The life lessons, the morals and the values that were instilled in me by this great organization are so immense that I cannot properly do it justice. This has changed me in multiple ways, brought me closer to my personal belief in a Creator and improved me as a man and most importantly as a fire officer. If we had more dedicated firemen and more firemen who lived their lives, not as masons, but with masonic principle our industry would be apt to thrive in these dark times. I will now go over some items (working tools) and brief descriptions of these tools that masons use to help remind us to live better:

The Square: the square teaches masons to "square" their actions (to think about what they are about to do and do it with integrity).

The Compass: the compass teaches masons to circumscribe their passions (to think about what you love and make sure that it is healthy and right morally) and keep their desires within due bounds (not letting things get out of hand)

The Level: the level teaches equality, that all men are created equal and that none are better than any other

The Plumb: the level teaches masons that they should always walk upright in front of their creator and all of mankind, they should act with integrity and to the best of their abilities.

These are just four basic masonic tools, there are many more and there are much greater explanations for each than what I have given, but as a mason I can only provide so much information to the general public. But with these very basic ideas, we as firemen can create our own system of symbolism from our own tools that is dedicated to making our membership better servants of the public.

The Nozzle: The nozzle is dedicated to the rookie, for by due attention to its uses we are taught to extinguish the feeling of superiority over the people for which they serve.

The Hook: the hook is dedicated to the junior man, for by due attention to its uses, we are taught to pull apart our lives to expose and extinguish our smoldering actions that would make for negative publicity.

The Irons: the irons are dedicated to the senior man, for by due attention its uses we are taught to break down the barriers of ignorance, and to open the doors to the highest level of service possible.

 

The Camera: The TIC is dedicated to the officer, for by due attention to its uses we are taught to see through the dark muddled smoke of wrong and right and lead our firemen to be the best and most responsible they can be. 

This is simply an idea, an idea that you may agree with, an idea that you may disagree with; to each their own. I feel simply that firefighting is the greatest job in the world, we are all privileged to be part of such a wonderful service that provides relief to those most in need. However, if we do not cut out our cancers or prevent them from occurring we will never reach that love and respect we once had. If more firemen lived their lives with better principles, many of our issues may stop at the door. If there is any question regarding Freemasonry, or my beliefs on how they correlate to the fire service do not hesitate to send me an email. To be one, you must ask one!

Stay Smart, Stay Aggressive!

-LTS

* Author's Note: Ian Schulte is a 3rd Degree Master Mason in the Commonwealth of Kentucky as well as a 32nd Degree Mason in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, all information relating to masonry above is not considered esoteric or a violation of masonic oath (all wording above was stated in open communication to the public). All information beyond that is merely considered opinion and does not reflect that of any masonic or fire service institution to which I may be affiliated.

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Comment by Jon Eric Johnson on March 26, 2014 at 11:41am

An interesting article, but I have a slightly different perspective.
I am a professional Captain (2nd generation firefighter, with several uncles, etc. also on the job) in a mid-sized metropolitan department with 18 years on the job. I also have a firepal, ex-roomate from rookie school, who is a Freemason and speaks highly of them.

I think that most of what the Freemasons stand for and do is good and noble, and would actually be interested in joining them, except that as an Atheist I am barred from doing so.

I do not begrudge anyone their faith. In fact as an American I support and defend everyone's right to believe, or not believe, as they see fit per the 1st Amendment (as long as someone isn't trying to put THEIR religion into OUR government or public schools I've got no beef, live and let live).

In fact I utilize our Dept. Chaplain on scene as much if not more than the rest of my fellow company officers; he's a good man (and my dear friend) who doesn't proselytize, and uses his faith, if the citizen shares it, as a tool to help them deal with whatever loss or tragedy I called him to the scene to help with. If they don't he's simply a counselor, logistics coordinator and aid worker (he also serves as the Treasurer for our Community Assistance Program). In fact I'm one of his biggest supporters / defenders; a fact that Padre' and I have had many good laughs over.

But I find it troubling and disappointing that so many people and organizations (including the author of this article and the Freemasons), either stated or implied, link morality and being a good person to a belief in a higher power.

In preparing my presentation for a local community college class and panel debate on religion (I sat on the panel as the Atheist representative as a favor to another clergy friend, a Hindu Priest who is the head of our local Interfaith Alliance) I researched morality and faith. I had expected to find that non-believers were more moral than religious people; what I actually found was that there have been only 2 studies done on the subject (one by Harvard) and that one had a very slight edge for the secular folks (just above the margin of error) and the other showed a dead heat.

In other words, whether you believe in a higher power / creator has exactly ZERO effect on how good / moral of a person you are, one way or another.

I would stack my charity / volunteer / ethical resume' up against anyone's; and yet the majority of this country views me as evil because I do not share their religious beliefs, and I cannot join the Freemasons because I will not lie and say I believe in a creator (I also have kept my son from joining Boy Scouts, which I think is a tragedy and as a former Scout myself breaks my heart; but I will not take my little boy to a club where they are going to teach him that his daddy is not a moral person because he doesn't believe in God).

Even in the firehouse it can sometimes be difficult to be honest about non-belief, and I have been personally harassed and persecuted by a (now retired, thankfully) devoutly Christian Battalion Chief when, after receiving several religious (work) emails from him I finally mentioned that I was an Atheist and wasn't interested in that stuff.

Though I am happy and proud to say that for the most part our department members, religious or not, are professionals and act like it on the job so it's not as bad as it could be. In fact the only time as a company officer I had to counsel / redirect a member of my crew was to a fellow Atheist who had had some pretty terrible experiences related to religion, but who's anti-religious rhetoric was getting out of hand and was not appropriate for a work environment.

So I applaud the Freemasons and all people of faith who do good works and make our society and the planet a better place. But I REALLY wish that they would realize that their faith is NOT required to be a good person, and I look forward to the day that I, too, can join an organization like the Freemasons, or take my little boy to Boy Scouts, without them trying to get me to give up my 1st Amendment rights by trying to force me to believe in something I do not. Believing in being good to each other and sacrificing for the greater good of humanity should be enough, IMO.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to consider my thoughts. Sorry for the eyestrain.

Be safe Brothers (and Sisters). :-)

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