True Firefighter Courage
Joseph Kitchen, Bath Twp. Fire Department (Lima, Ohio)
Courage is a word often used to describe firefighters across this great country. Some fire departments have the word “courage” in their mottos and the word can often be seen emblazoned on trucks and apparatus. T-shirts, helmet stickers, and vehicle decals with the word courage are also very common. I am not opposed to this because regularly firefighters across our nation risk their own lives to save others. It truly takes a tremendous amount of courage as well as training and experience to successfully rescue victims from fires and other emergencies. However, if your department is like mine, opportunities to snatch victims from burning homes do not happen very often. We should always be prepared for these scenarios, but statistically, their numbers are few. I think it’s important for firefighters to understand that they don’t have to be seen on the 6 o’clock news carrying a baby down a ladder to be considered courageous. Courage in the fire service can present itself in many different ways.
For example, it takes courage to put a stop to decades of tradition in many of our agencies whereby rookie firefighters are hazed, harassed, and teased as a rite of passage. It takes courage to speak up and end this behavior.
It takes courage to focus your time on drilling and training to improve your firefighting skills when the majority of the shift would prefer to stay in the recliners. It takes courage to listen to the jokes and smart remarks because you want to be the best you can be.
It takes courage to hit the gym and work on your personal fitness goals when the culture in your organization revolves more around pizza, wings, and donuts.
It takes courage to show care and compassion to your fellow firefighters. All across the country firefighters are dealing with divorce, financial issues, PTSD, and a host of other issues. It’s time for us to show true brotherhood and break the cycle of “tough guy” firefighters who fail to show emotions. We need to reach out to our brethren in need and let them know we are in their corner. Again, this takes courage.
It takes courage to get up from the fire station kitchen table when the conversation turns negative. It takes courage to not be drawn into critical conversations focusing on the mayor, city council, and the fire department administration.
It takes courage to stand up for the females in our organizations. It takes courage to end off-color jokes and remarks which are homophobic and racist.
It takes courage to show gratitude for what is truly the best job on earth. It’s a lot easier to just go with the flow and let negative energy overtake an organization. Courageous firefighters can break these cycles and change the atmosphere within our departments.
It takes courage to work on your formal education, attend workshops, and seminars. It would be easy to just show up for work and “blend in.”
It takes courage to go “above and beyond” in the fire house. An extra coat of wax on the truck, shining the chrome, and cleaning the cab by yourself isn’t easy when the rest of crew is lounging around.
It takes courage to break the cycle of wearing dirty turn out gear, not wearing SCBA’s during salvage and overhaul, and failing to decontaminate our PPE and equipment immediately after fires.
It takes courage to speak up against cigarette smoking and tobacco use in the fire service.
It takes courage to remind a senior guy to buckle his seatbelt in the truck or put on his reflective vest on a highway crash.
I believe that courage truthfully is a virtue of the fire service, however as you can see, it comes in many different forms. So I end with this question: “Are you a courageous firefighter?”
Joseph Kitchen, OFC, is the Chief of the Bath Twp. Fire Dept. (Lima, Ohio.) He began his career in 1990 and has served as fire chief since 2002. He holds degrees in EMS and fire science, and in 2012 was named “Fire Officer of the Year” by the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Follow Chief Kitchen on Twitter @chiefjoekitchen and visit his department’s website at www.bathtwpfd.com