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Kings, coronations and fire service traditions

While not quite on par with royal pomp and circumstance, there are some powerful fire service traditions we should embrace – and a few to leave in the past


“Similar to the royal monarchs of Britain, the American fire service is also steeped in traditions, unwritten rules, and routines that have helped to shape the culture of our firefighting families,” writes Bettinazzi.

Photo/Placentia (Calif.) Fire Department

As we approach King Charles III’s coronation day, it makes me think about the incredible pomp and circumstance surrounding monarchs – and the majestic rulers who are steadfast in tradition and maintaining a legacy that has lasted for centuries. King Charles III will be the first British monarch to be coronated in the 21st century, following the end of his mother’s 70-year reign in 2022. Charles is the 40th person to be coronated at the historic Westminster Abbey, dating back to Christmas Day in 1066.

Great fire service traditions

Similar to the royal monarchs of Britain, the American fire service is also steeped in traditions, unwritten rules, and routines that have helped to shape the culture of our firefighting families. The firehouse is an amazing place to enjoy these traditions, even if we don’t get to indulge them for a full 70-year career.

Some of the fire service traditions I admire:

A personal favorite tradition

My favorite fire service tradition centers on firehouse meals, more specifically, dinnertime. Oh, how my little foodie stomach is joyfully satisfied between the hours of 17:00-19:00 as we all gather around the kitchen table to eat. This tradition matters, as it contains so many deeper meanings for the members of our organization.

First, mealtime often signifies the end of our “workday.” Dinnertime is often the unofficial marker that we have accomplished our assigned or mandatory duties, and we have transitioned into “our” time. At the dinner table, we talk about the accomplishments of our day and the objectives we were able to complete. Stories are always shared, and while many are often repeated, we still all pretend that we are hearing them for the first time and enjoy the moments.

Some of the best meals I have ever eaten in my life have been cooked by firefighters. Seriously, food that was so good that I considered taking my wife to a firehouse dinner on our anniversary. All of those delicious calories eaten on a bargain price.

One of the best things about being a battalion chief was the opportunity to eat at other fire stations. Selfishly, I was able to successfully sneak my way into the shift’s best menu options every third day. Station 6’s chicken piccata night always produced a buy-in from me. Heck, I’d even pay double because it was that good. Station 3’s chicken parmesan is better than my mother’s, even though I would never dare to admit it. And Station 1’s chicken tinga with homemade hot salsa was always worth the 2-3 Tums you had to ingest afterward. These great meals were typically made by great people who sincerely enjoyed the process of cooking for their fellow firefighters. You always got seconds, even if you were too full.

Now, if I am being honest, some of the worst meals I have ever eaten have been served at a firehouse too. Usually it was the rookie who was asked to impress upon us his or hers best culinary masterpiece. Sad to say that your buffalo-ranch chicken pasta with overcooked noodles did not at all satisfy. However, my favorite tradition of the dinner meal still brought us all together no matter how bad the dish.

Finally, no matter how busy the day became, we always found time to come together for dinner. Even if it was past 20:00, we still found a way to make the dinner moments happen. Sometimes the only resort was cold pizza served after the dust had finally settled, but it didn’t matter as long as we were all together, eating and talking.

Traditions to leave in the past

While traditions can be great, not all are worth keeping. Just because we have been doing it for a long time does not mean it is still right for our people. Toxic is toxic regardless of how you try to justify the action or process.

One such “tradition” is the mindset that the newest member eats last during meals. This responsibility belongs to the ranking officer. It is their duty to make sure that their people are cared for. The rookie can earn their way through other means. Let them eat.

Another tradition that need to go is the expectation that the junior member cleans the fire station by themselves. Come on now, are we for real? Firefighting is a team-oriented occupation. We are told from day one to work in companies and crews in order to complete required tasks, and, in my opinion, cleaning is no different. Get together and accomplish the needed janitorial duties for the day. Don’t worry, you can still give them the bathrooms to clean, but the rest is divided and conquered as a team.

Take stock of your traditions

As the world tunes in to watch the new king of Britain receive his crown, we will once again witness a centuries-long regal tradition. Our fire service is an occupation that arguably boasts a long line of traditions as well. Soak in the position traditions that you appreciate, and be strong enough to help reshape the ones that you do not care for within your organization.

Vince Bettinazzi joined the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department in 2007. He currently holds the rank of battalion chief and is assigned as a shift commander on C-Shift. Bettinazzi is a member of the department’s Ocean Rescue Team as a certified USLA lifeguard. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in 2016, and recently obtained his Chief Fire Officer Designation from CPSE. Bettinazzi is a co-host on the “Beyond the Stretch” podcast.