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The moments that make firefighting worthwhile

Don’t just be there for the laughs, but be there for the tears as well


Photo/City of Olympia

By Billy Galvin

Awhile back, we were coming home from a fire and the crew was dirty and tired from a job well done.

It was a nasty fire — the kind that pins you to the floor. The kind that you know will suck, but you’re glad you were at it when it’s over. It was a good stop — an epic push. Most importantly, it was a win and in this job wins are few and far between.

I looked at the guys’ soot-smeared faces all telling jokes and full of smiles. It is these moments that I cherish because the camaraderie is so high and all is perfect for one brief moment. It is these moments why firefighters love doing this job.

But with the good comes the bad and the ugly, the times we see people at their most vulnerable or at their worst. Some experiences we have stick with us forever. That is the part of the job they don’t talk about in the academy books because there is no way to really prepare for the shitty end of the stick.

For all the bad things I have seen thus far in my career, though, it was well worth it for all the great experiences I have had. It’s like paying the Piper. If you want to be a firefighter, you need to show up for it all. You can’t pick and choose. When times suck in the engine house, be the guy digging in. Don’t just be there for the laughs, but be there for the tears as well.

A firefighter’s reputation is everything in this job and if you don’t think so, that probably means you have a bad one. I don’t know much, but I do know that the biggest part of being a solid guy on this job is being 100 percent into it, no matter what you’re doing. From a three-alarm blaze to a lift assist, just attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind (not mine, it’s Jim Harbaugh‘s phrase, the greatest coach of all time). Be involved and be present at every moment. Play for the guy next to you, love your crew, your family, and sacrifice for one another. I love this job and it is a part of me more than I want sometimes.

Recently, we had a giant commercial building go to three alarms. It was a nightmare fire that burned for weeks. You just knew it was going to suck, but it is what it is, so let’s dig in. Our brothers from Detroit and Hamtramck stood right there with us for days just throwing water on this nightmare (these guys are true gentlemen). I learned a lot from that fire. I learned that there are those who go into grind mode and those who go into complain mode. Which one would you want to listen to for days?

I think too many people get into this job looking for glory only to find the cost of glory is high. Glory comes when no one’s watching. Glory comes when we are sitting around after a job well done, when spirits are high and for a moment everything is perfect.

Take those moments and cherish them with all your heart, for these will be the memories we will hold onto when we are old and gray. This is the greatest job ever, never forget it and take it all in.

Stay safe out there.

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.
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