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Why am I Here?

Have you ever asked yourself that? Not the philosophical seeking of purpose on earth version of the question, but why am I in the fire service? I think we all have our reasons for doing what we’re doing, but are our intentions true and honorable? Mine weren’t so hot, and I changed it.

I first became interested in the idea of being a firefighter when I was probably 14. It looked cool and I figured I’d have fun doing it, but at the time I had no idea what it was really about. I only wanted the title of firefighter. Luckily (we’ll talk about why in a minute) 8 years in the Navy and a few civilian jobs got into the way and I was in my early 30’s before I really decided to pursue being a firefighter. A good friend thought that I was after an adrenaline rush or thrill seeking. That wasn’t completely accurate. I wasn’t just after the title of firefighter at this point, but I did figure I’d get to wear a cool hat, break some stuff, make a bunch of noise going down the road and maybe prove something to someone. It’s safe to say that my motivation at this point was pretty selfish and I wasn’t thinking about the people I’d influence as a priority. I also thought that the brotherhood I’d heard about just happened. You become a firefighter and you’re in the club. I was wrong on many levels.

Why was waiting until I did to pursue firefighting a good thing? Maturity, insight, and seeing the big picture. As I learned in school and came up on the floor (hell, I’m still “coming up”) I was able to pick up on some things that I don’t think a younger me would have noticed. I think an older me will read this and laugh at the “kid” by the way. I’ve always been good at finding the leaders that matter, the mentors you can trust and should heed what they say. I got lucky and have had the most excellent mentors along the way that have taught, and continue to teach me what this job and what being a firefighter is really about. Some of you are maybe even reading this! In any case, I’ve been able to reevaluate why I’m here and what it really means to earn the privilege of being a firefighter.

When I was in the academy I began to realize what brotherhood really is. I began to bond with my classmates, who quickly became family through the blood and sweat we paid to earn our place on the drill ground and to solidify those bonds. We weren’t brothers and sisters just because we were in the same recruit class, we were brothers and sisters because went through it and paid our way in hard work together. As I was assigned to my first engine and began running calls this realization was solidified. We worked together. We ate together. We won together, and we lost a few times together. We picked up and moved forward together. I earned my place on their engine and over time, their engine became OUR engine. A great firefighter once said and I’m paraphrasing, that we’re not brothers and sisters...family...because we’re all firefighters. We’re family because we went through s*** TOGETHER. How true is that?

So now I figure I’ve got this earning my place, proving myself, and becoming legit family down pretty good. What about the people we help? Were they my priority then? Are they my priority now?  Were they the real reason I’m here? In my mind the answer is and always was yes. The difference is now I consciously know that they are the true reason firefighters even exist. I know in my heart and in my mind that THEY are the real reason I’m here. I can’t say that it isn’t exciting to do the job that we love, but I can say that I do it to make THEIR day better instead of indulging in my petty desires. I know that each shift I’m helping to make the space around me a little bit better.

Where do you stand? I believe that we all do this job with good intentions. Are there those among us that just want a T shirt? Absolutely, but they are easy to identify and usually don’t last. They’re probably also moldable if we take the time to show them a better way. There is no reason that selfish motivation can’t be turned into selfless motivation. I made the change, anyone can.

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