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A s 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 TV – helplessness. As firefighters, we are action oriented with one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to protect and save. That drives us from an internal computer program that was programmed long before we drew our first breath; we few, we the chosen guardians.
As the news of the Newtown, CT, school shootings flooded the airwaves, we all no doubt felt a familiar helplessness. That internal computer program was firing up and sending action signals to the brain even though the tragedy was occurring miles away.
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.
All firefighters feel invincible to some degree and confident in their skills to the highest degree. That is why we can run into burning buildings and other disasters without hesitation. While the emergency responders in Newtown without a doubt did everything humanly possible and saved every life that could be saved, they felt that if they were there, maybe “just one more” life could have been saved. Not because our skills are any better or we would have done anything different, 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. 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?
A numbed society?
We are entering a whole new world driven by an increasingly numb society that turns to violence more and more to settle differences. No longer are the victims only mobsters and gangsters killing themselves (which was bad enough); now, among the victims are women and children. And they are no longer just innocent victims caught in the crossfire or hit by an errant bullet. They are now 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 terrorism 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 thing to do. We just simply said what firefighters have said throughout history when threats presented themselves: “We got this.”
What’s the answer?
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? Simple – our badge. As a profession we need to stop thinking one dimensionally about our role in our communities. We need to realize the awesome power we wield within our communities simply because of who we are and what we do. Think about the awesome trust and faith our communities have in us just because of the badge we wear and what we can accomplish with that type of power.
When was the last time a parent restrained a child from hugging you when you are in uniform or letting you – a complete stranger – lift that child 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?