I just got back from the FOOLS Convention in Seattle and I'm still riding high from it, a little wound up, a little melancholy, a bit homesick. Funny, I had never met most of the firemen and women I met down there, yet so many of them have left a mark on me, a h*** in my soul that I cannot fill, now that I am gone from them again. We shared many great moments. Like John and Walt on the Pipes, the helmets stack halfway up the wall, and Gilbert becoming one with the barrier, the Pub crawl and being cheered on the docks in Seattle by the people who only knew that we were firemen.
I go back to the firehouse in a day, and I'm looking forward to it, but I can't help feel as though half the company won't be there. Darby, Materi, Brandon, Chad, Steve (George), John, Todd, Frosty and all the guys I met that I felt as though I'd known my whole career.
As I go back to the Engine, I know that I take with me, things that will mark me for the rest of my career. I intend to be every bit the "warrior poet" that Chief Halton describes in his blog, and to make being a "traditionalist" my calling. Not that I wasn't before, but that now I have seen how it binds us together over thousands of miles, it fills me with a resolution that is somehow, (if that is possible) more solid and purposeful than before.
As I go, I will remember the young men who greeted me throughout the convention. Each one shook my hand as if I was some sort of hero, some sort of renowned "man of the hour". How unworthy of such praise I felt. Who knows where they got the idea that I was some wise old salt. Don't they realize I'm still looking over my shoulder for the crusty old man to lead me? Crusty old man is gone. I've taken his place. I'll take these young men with me as I go. I will call them to mind when I am discouraged and downhearted in the fight to keep the Faith alive. For it is for these young men that we push on. It is for the younger generation that all of this is preserved. It is so that they might know why Andy died, why the six died at Worcester, why so many charged the stairs in the twin towers and why we look at each other and hold close men we barely know. Each of us would give our lives for the other. This is what we are.
I'm melancholy as I go back, because in my heart I carry the images that Josh Materi created in his photo essay for us. The words of Springsteen's song go deep as I think of everyone I've known in the fire service and how the loss of any one of those would affect us all and has. I think of the Prez' (International) and how he helped me to understand just how much it means to him that we keep FOOLS from dying. He said, "I know firemen are going to die, but we must do everything we can, so that at least every FOOL has been trained and accounted for. So that no FOOL can say his training let him down" Prez, I'm with you.
As I go to work, I tuck my leather helmet under my arm. It will be my headdress as I don it to lead my young men. As I go, I carry with me all the men who have gone before me, my brothers, 200 years worth of the finest men that ever put their hands to a task. As I arrive on scene and step to the fore, I bring all of those men with me. That's why my mustache is long, I wouldn't want to be under dressed in such company.
My Brothers, each of us has trials to face back at work or at home. We love this job like no other, but when faced with Mutts and Budgets of all shapes and kinds, our passion can be seriously doused. So I quote to you the words I shared with my brothers in the Farthest North FOOLS as we realized how much work we had to do when we got home. "We are the right men, at the right time, in the right place. There is no other place I'd rather be". There go the tones, get on the rig, we're movin' out.
See you at the Convention next year. Chad, brother. You were right. I won't miss another one.
A Warrior Poet of the Farthest North FOOLS