As with most emotions that occur in the fire service we can’t describe it, but we all know it because it seems to be with us every day when we turn on the television – helplessness. As firefighters we are action orientated with one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to protect and to save. Those needs drive us from an internal computer program that was programed long before we drew our first breath; we few, we the chosen guardians.
As the news of the Newtown, CT, shootings flooded the airwaves we all no doubt sat there with that all too familiar feeling of helplessness, and that internal computer program was firing up and sending action signals to the brain even though the tragedy was occurring miles away. For me, I was 7,000 miles away manning a fire station in the Middle East with my military/firefighter brothers in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As the news reached us at about 9:30 p.m. local time the sounds of bunkroom doors opening in the station could be heard as those action signals were taking hold causing us to all "just kind of" make our way to the station dayroom to do the only thing we could – talk about it. It was something though.
Every firefighter feels invincible to some degree, and confidant in their skills to the highest degree. That is why we can run into burning buildings and other disasters without hesitation or pause. While the emergency responders in Newtown, without a doubt did everything humanly possible and saved every life that could be saved, every firefighter in this nation felt that if they were there maybe "just one more" life could have been saved. Not because our skills are any better or we’d have done anything differently, but by believing that just having one more set of hands and skills on that emergency scene could have made the difference for just one more person; another person could have received CPR, had bleeding controlled, one more established airway. Even though these thoughts are in vain, that internal computer keeps firing off those action programs that we can’t control but only react to. However, in the end we were all just left feeling helpless.
But are we?
We are entering a whole new world driven by an increasingly numb society who turns to violence more and more to settle their differences. It is a rising problem in our civilization and the victims are no longer mobsters and gangsters killing themselves (which was bad enough); but now the victims involve women and children, and they are no longer just the innocent victims caught in the cross fire or hit by an errant bullet, but as in Newtown, they are now the targets.
These are non-traditional times and our communities are again desperately looking for heroes with answers and solutions. Historically firefighters have been just that. When this country needed someone to carry the torch we stood up. Our country has a fire problem – we are the solution, we have an emergency medical problem with people dying on highways and in their homes – we are the solution, we have a hazardous materials problem – we are the solution, we have a terrorist problem – we are a big part of that solution. We willingly stood up and grabbed these torches, many times without asking for, and almost always without receiving, additional funding or resources but it was the right things to do. We just simply said what firefighters have been known to say throughout our history when the threats presented itself: "we got this."
So how do we fit into the violence problem such as that which occurred in Newtown? What is our solution to this new threat that the innocent in our nation are facing? It's simple - our badge. As a profession we need to stop thinking one dimensional about our role in our communities. We need to step back and realize the awesome power we wield within our community simply because of who we are and what we do. Think about the awesome trust and faith our communities have just because of the badge that we wear and what we can accomplish with that type of power?