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Editor's Note
by Rick Markley, editor-in-chief

The fire service, compassion and racism do not mix

Embracing or tolerating prejudice undermines one of the fire service's primary missions: helping others through compassion

By Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

As a white, middle-class male, I've rarely been ill-treated due to my race or gender. In fact, I've likely benefited from it in some way.

I can empathize until the cows come home, but I'll never fully understand the struggles of different minority groups. Likewise, I'll probably never fully know how much of the privilege I've experienced was earned on merit vs. awarded due to my white maleness.

I do know that bias and discrimination exists. And because it exists in society, it exists in the fire service. There are times when the white sheets are thrown off and we see the ugly reminders of this truth.

Such was the case when the social media posts by a rural Indiana fire chief came to light last week. And earlier this year, FDNY's self-proclaimed "bad lieutenant" was outed for posting racial slurs on his Twitter account.

Scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that humans are born with a sense of right and wrong — a sort of survival instinct to be accepted into the pack. And I suspect that the most ardent racist, xenophobe, or misogynist knows deep down in his quiet moments that those attitudes are wrong.

The fire service is heavily populated with those whose prime motivation is to do what's right. Because when the thrill of action and its adrenalin rush lose their shine, we are left with our desire to help others in times of need. We are driven by compassion; it is what makes this work so fulfilling.

Hating or not tolerating others because they differ in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or whatever is the opposite of compassion.

When the story of the Indiana fire chief broke, many asked if someone with his views would render the same level of aid to a victim or fellow firefighter who fell outside the chief's race, religion, gender, etc., as he would to someone more like him. It is a valid question.

Firefighters and medics neutralize and fix bad situations all the time — it's what we do. Fixing humans' desire to hate one another for arbitrary reasons likely falls outside firefighters' span of control.

But we can control this within our own fire stations and fire departments. In fact, it is imperative that we refuse to tolerate that type of hatred, whether it is something as overt as the Indiana chief or as subtle as racist jokes that everyone chuckles at out of deference to the teller.

Keeping hatred out of the fire service means we can better help our residents and our firefighter brothers and sisters through compassion. 

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