Power of the Badge: It is Time to Stop Feeling Helpless

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...

When was the last time you remember a parent restraining their child from hugging you when you are in uniform, or allowing you – a complete stranger – to put your hands on their child to lift them into the cab of the apparatus? Now think about that in the context of the violence befalling our children today. That my brothers and sisters is faith and trust! So what are you doing with that gift that has been entrusted to you?

As a fire service we are the only agency our communities turn to when they are in need because they know that regardless of their problem if we can’t fix it we can locate someone who can. They know that we are the ONLY agency in the government section of their phone book that will come when called and arrive in under six minutes. So why should this new threat to our community be any different of a challenge for us to help solve than hazardous materials or terrorism?

So how can the fire service offer a solution?

Prevention is the wave of the future and where we need to be as a public service, not only in order to survive, but just like always because it is the right thing to do. Community violence is another problem threatening our innocent, and as unquestioned heroes given limitless trust and admiration, we need to get involved and start earning what we have been bestowed.

Almost every community in America has agencies that address the community’s problems, and those agencies either work directly with violence or with the elements that give root to violence. Even your local schools have groups that attempt to prevent everything from violence, Students Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) to bullying, Champions Against Bullying (C.A.B.). If your young school students are willing to take up this challenge to better their community then why shouldn’t we?

As firefighters we have the instant respect of anyone in any room, in any building, in any demographic, in any culture, in any community. We talk and people stop and listen. What we say has value because years have shown our sincerity and commitment to others. We are immediate experts to any tragedy because we have been there and speak from direct experiences. They know our eyes have seen what should never have occurred and know our passion comes from truth, honesty, and just wanting to do what’s right. That is an awesome power to wield and it is currently being wasted behind bay doors while our citizens are dying and our communities are decaying on the outside.

Can the fire service, or you as a firefighter, completely solve such violence as we saw in Newtown, Connecticut? Of course the answer is no. We can’t completely solve the fire problem either but we still attack that problem, like every problem that challenges us, with the belief that victory is ours or we will die trying. Any firefighter reading this would without a doubt risk their everything to rush into a completely unstable situation if they could save just one life. Why should addressing community violence be any different? If you could save just one life, or prevent just one act of violence, would you? Then why don’t you? What’s stopping you? If not you then who?

As a senior military non-commissioned officer with over 24 years of service I have sat through more than my share of leadership classes. Recently I attended a class on the impact a leader can have on their troops and a story was told. I have no idea if this was a true story, a parable, or a wives tale; but it struck home to all of us in the audience and is very applicable to this discussion:

One day a boy who was known to be quiet in school was walking home and carrying all of the books from his locker. An older boy was watching the younger one struggle with his load as he made his way down the street. The older boy simply shook his head and ignored the situation until the quiet boy dropped his books, sending papers and pages everywhere. Begrudgingly the older boy stopped to help pick up the books and papers and, feeling sorry for the younger boy, helped carry his books home. On the way the two struck up a conversation and realizing they had much in common became best of friends. Over the years the two became inseparable with the younger boy graduating his high school with honors; he was surely destined to do great things. During their graduation the older boy sat in the audience and watched his younger friend give the speech as his classes’ valedictorian. The younger boy began his speech by talking about his friend and how much their friendship had meant to him over the years and that if it were not for his friend he would not be there addressing his class at their graduation; because years ago on the day he dropped his books, he was on his way home to end his life and was carrying all his books home to clear out his locker so his mother wouldn’t have to. By just getting involved his friend unknowingly saved his life.