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Why is firefighting a family affair?

Putting our children in the path of danger goes against every instinct we have


(Photo/US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Photo/US Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Michael Morse

If firefighting is so dangerous, so stressful and so hard, then why is firefighting a family affair? Why would a parent subject their sons or daughters to the same punishment that they have endured?

Putting our children in the path of danger goes against every instinct we have. Subjecting them to hardship is something most parents can never understand. Without having lived the life and witnessed the unfairness of it at its most raw and powerful, we could never dream of passing on what we know to them. Protecting them from that unfairness will also shield them from the truly miraculous things we see.

I would hate to deprive anybody, including my children and their children, the opportunities that I have had. Here‘s just a few:

  • I felt like the King of the World manning the tiller on Ladder Co. 7 en-route to a three alarm fire at three in the morning one sub-zero January night, the glow of fire in the distance, radio clacking, smoke in the air and excitement like I never imagined possible pumping through my veins.
  • I held the crowning head of a not yet born baby, and helped her into the world while maintaining eye contact with her mother, a connection with two human beings that will stay with me long after the umbilical cord was cut.
  • I’ve stood outside a fully involved three-story wood frame house, ran four charged attack lines, coaxed more water from my pump than I had any right to expect, gated back here, opened a little there, listened to the motors hum and knew my brothers and sisters were inside the inferno, and believed in me, and my ability to get them the water that their lives depended on.
  • I’ve seen a young man hanging dead from some neckties that he tied together; fastened to a doorknob, tossed over the front of the door and knelt behind it until the life he had grown tired of left him forever. I have seen desperation, and felt it, and have learned how to recognize it in myself and others, and never take a second of this gift of life for granted because of it.
  • I’ve stood on top of Engine Co. 3, packing hose with firefighters, lieutenants and captains, exhausted, soaked and dirty and basked in the camaraderie that is earned by people who have accomplished a seemingly impossible task together.
  • I have stood in front of an emergency room sink, washing blood from my hands, telling myself that we did all we could to save him, making peace with a nine-year-old kid‘s early departure from the world, and heard those unbelievable words that I hear in my dreams; “We’ve got a pulse.”
  • I’ve stood on stage in front of a room full of friends, family and colleagues and accepted medals from an appreciative public for doing things that any decent human being would do if given the chance, and accepted the praise while knowing exactly how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to put on the uniform and live the life of my dreams.

Firefighting is the life we have lived. We are fully aware of the danger and the hardship. We know that there will be dark days ahead for most, if not all, firefighters. We know there will be injuries, self-doubt, and regret when things go wrong. And things will definitely go wrong during a career in the fire service, there is no way to avoid it.

We also know that by facing the terrible things we will see and healing from the injuries we endure, we will grow and become grounded in the reality that life at its most raw brings joy as well as sorrow. By bearing witness to all that goes wrong, we will learn to see all that is good in a new light and hold onto that good with all we have and nurture it, appreciate it and never let it go.

Life is short. When we are kids our days seem endless, and weeks crawl by. As we age and count our time on Earth in years, then decades, we begin to see just how quickly it all passes. In our youth we are fascinated with possibilities; anything is possible, and the world is ours for the taking. As life progresses we learn that it is not about what we take, rather it is what we give that matters.

As parents, we learn that taking everything we can to achieve happiness is a fool’s game. We know that it is in the giving where true satisfaction derives. The fire service provides the perfect opportunity to find purpose, contentment, and the elusive happiness that every person craves. To give our children every opportunity we can imagine, including but certainly not limited to the opportunity to pursue the life we have led, is the greatest gift we can give them. Denying them the chance to experience it because of the inherent risk is simply not an option.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.