Firefighters usually have a healthy stock of personal and company pride. Many of us are happy to get the crew together for the traditional work detail of washing, waxing and polishing the rig before that next parade or inspection. Another tradition of the fire service you can take great pride in, when polished, is your salute.
While there are many types, including rifle salutes, fired-gun salutes and salutes with all manner of other weapons, let’s focus on the one you are going to most often be called upon to execute in our paramilitary structure: the military salute.
The military salute (or hand salute) has origins in history and legend that may date as far back as the Romans. Assassinations were common enough in those times that during a meeting, one would greet a high-ranking public official with a raised and empty right hand. Showing that your weapon hand was dagger-free was apparently in those days, common courtesy.
Another theory suggests the salute was born in the time of knights at the height of chivalry. When approaching one another on horseback a warrior would raise the visor of his helmet for recognition and in a gesture of peace.
Perhaps the closest ancestor of our modern-day salute comes from the British Royal Navy. As early as the 1700s, the British military clapped their right hand to the brim of their caps as a salute. But the palms of white gloves tended to get a bit dirty on ships back then, so the palm-down salute was conceived.
In the American fire service, we don’t salute as often as our brothers and sisters in the armed services. As is the case with all of our training, if we do not properly learn and practice our salute, the result is likely to be a poorly executed salute by a firefighter who lacks confidence in the skill. This leads us to sometimes see salutes that are delivered incorrectly or without confidence. Considering the most common times we’re saluting is to honor the Colors or a fallen comrade, we owe it to ourselves to do it right.
How To Salute
A salute is given to show respect for our National Colors and to fellow firefighters. It is an expression of courtesy between fire service professionals. (An example of this would be a firefighter receiving a commendation: In this case, the junior member initiates the salute, while the senior member returns it.) When you give (or return) a salute your head and eyes should turn toward the Colors or person saluted. If you are in ranks or a formation, the position of attention is maintained unless directed to salute. If directed to do so, all members should remain at attention with their head and eyes facing forward.
A salute is performed in one fluid motion. When you salute, bring your right hand quickly from your side until the tip of your index finger touches the lower-right part of the brim of your cap (Figure 1). This should be slightly to the right and above your right eye. If you are not wearing a cap, the tip of your index finger will touch your eyebrow slightly to the right and above your right eye.
Keep the fingers joined with your thumb along your index finger and all fingers extended straight. You will be able to see your entire palm when looking straight ahead (Figure 2). Your upper arm should be parallel with the ground. Your elbow is in line with the body and your forearm is at a 45-degree angle. The hand and wrist should be straight, creating a line from a fingertip to forearm. If you are not in a formation or in ranks, turn your head and eyes toward the Colors or person you are saluting.
If saluting a senior member, hold your salute in place until the member returns the salute. When the senior member begins to bring their hand back down, bring yours down as well.