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Being a Firefighter is in the Blood: Get Up, Get it Pumping

They say that being a firefighter is in the blood, and often times from a blood line that has been passed down from father/mother to son/daughter. If there is not a family lineage passing on the blood, then that existing dormant gene became active when an individual saw firefighters in action, or an individual in the firefighting profession somewhere during their developmental stages of life, which made such a dynamic impact that the once dormant/recessive gene fired up (no pun intended). However it happened the firefighter gene became active and the blood became infected.

If this blood were to be studied and analyzed I bet that it would be found similar to that surging through the veins of a warrior. This is blood that normally lies benign and allows the host to function daily without breaking glass or through the walls of the local department store while out shopping. The type of blood that allows the individual to go about his or her daily activities as just another neighbor and member of the community; it allows them to cut grass, fix household items, attend their children’s functions, and maybe put up Christmas lights. But then a call for help goes out.... 

As sure as a super hero runs into a phone booth, spins in a circle, or slides down a pole to transform into their crime fighter attire, the firefighter’s warrior blood begins to boil causing the heart to pump, blood vessels to constrict, pupils to dilate. It allows muscles to perfuse, and the feelings of possessing a proverbial super heroic force field develop, which will give them the confidence to conquer any evil in the pursuit of saving those in danger. Just as a warrior charges into battle against any threat, regardless of the forces they face, with the intent of victory for a cause they believe larger them themselves, the firefighters mount their apparatus and race to their battlefield with that very same purpose.

The blood of the warrior develops the personalities that make the person. Those of us who have been affiliated with more than one fire department know of what I speak because in each department there are the same people, same personalities, just different faces and uniforms. While agreed there are a few who wear our uniform but lack the warrior’s blood, the majority of those wearing our badge have it and the personality it develops – that is an “A” type personality. Not the “A” type characterized in psychology manuals and studied in behavior models, but the “A” type that simply stands for Action. But what becomes of a warrior when there is no war? No call to arms? No battle to fight?

We’ve all seen it. A normally harmonized firehouse begins to get edgy and the “will you stop touching me” arguments start; the bickering, the heated debates, the confrontations over who used the ketchup out of shift three’s refrigerator, and the humor becomes questionable, aggressive, suggestive, and edgy. The times when company officers feel more like babysitters who need to put their children in time out. Bunk room doors are slammed, roll call is tense, and the crew becomes creative in their use of the English language as they tactfully say what’s on their mind without officially crossing any lines.

Then the call for help comes in! A working fire, or an MVA with entrapment, a high-angle or low-angle rescue, a cardiac arrest! The blood boils and action takes hold – release! The warrior is called forth and no matter the battle they fight, the stress and pain they face, or the extreme difficulties they are put under they are at their most relaxed state, just the same as the common person feels when in a hot tub with a glass of wine and soft music. Now when the rescue is complete and all is said and done, and everyone is safe, the firehouse then returns to its normal harmonized state and everyone is at peace. All is right once again in the warrior’s world. Roll call again becomes a humorous time, extra food is left in the refrigerator for all to share, good natured pranks replace borderline humorous comments, and I am willing to bet even the spouses at home are happier as well.

The question is what to do in-between the calls for battle and how to keep the warrior on edge and ready, and at the same time keep the firehouse harmonized and a place of calm refuge in the chaotic world. Challenge is the answer.

These are exciting times to be in the fire service. Our profession is becoming more science based and we are learning to do our business safer, more efficiently, and our communities are the better for it. It’s time to tap into the warrior’s blood and get it pumping every shift and keep our service moving forward and our stations in harmony. It’s time to maximize learning and molding.

Challenge your firefighters daily! While nothing can imitate the same blood-boiling adrenalin state as a real rescue in a water filling trench or under rolling flames, the warrior blood can be brought to a nice simmer and flowing enough to not only keep the firehouse harmonized but the brotherhood strong and the warriors on edge. Just where they need and yearn to be.

It’s time to put the computers down, take the DVDs out of the players ("Backdraft," "Ladder 49," and "Rescue Me" are not training films no matter how creative your training report reads), and turn off YouTube. While computer-based training and learning has its place, especially in this tight financial time where training resources need to be monitored, it does nothing for the warrior spirit and the diffusion of excess warrior catecholamines that cause anxiety and a foul temperament in dormant stations. Sitting behind computers having those finely tuned skills that were perfected to saving lives in extreme situations now reduced to clicking keys and suffering death by PowerPoint, or watching YouTube video after video, firefighters are indeed left on edge, but not the cutting edge needed to take on the next rescue, but the edge that makes them feel as if they are hanging over a cliff with their last fingernail, and everyone in the station feels it and slam goes the bunkroom doors.  

Get the old warriors and new warriors together. While this normally can cause tense moments during training it can be capitalized on; we need to remember, fires were extinguished and people pulled from its clutches successfully long before the invention of thermal imaging, yet at the same time technology allows us to accomplish the same more efficiently and much safer. Both worlds are important to our business and should be brought together because our future will be brought forth from the explosive aftermath.

Get the crews out of the station and on the training ground. Throw scenarios at them that challenge them at all levels and generate out-of-the-box thinking. Bring the old warrior ways out to meet the modern warrior’s ways so the new warriors will develop because it’s the same old warrior blood pushing through their veins. Challenge to develop not to humiliate. Tap into that blood and spirit by encouraging innovative solutions that may or may not result successfully during initial attempts, but the warrior is left encouraged to keep trying so new methods and processes result. As the warrior saying goes “Sweat in training so you don’t bleed in battle.”

Challenging and realistic training gets that warrior blood flowing amongst the crews bringing forth that common bond that brought us, or called us, into this profession. It allows the release and download of the pent up energy that causes discord and tension in quiescent stations, and develops teamwork and appreciation for the knowledge held inside every warrior of every generation.

Even your most “special” crew member that challenges your patience and leadership, the grumpy and apparent disgruntled employee that you wish you could lock in a glass case that says “Break only in the event of an emergency” can benefit from having this warrior blood pumping in their veins. It provides a chance for them to contribute in a manner that brought them into this profession in the first place – the pumping of warrior blood can be rejuvenating.

Firefighters are who they are. It matters not if they are a Patriot or Giants fan, Christian or Atheist, tradesman or computer geek, or preference of a microwave to bring forth the station meal over the convection oven; while sitting around the bean table the most contentious and heated of debates can occur with the foulest of names being exchanged, yet when the bell strikes the blood boils and flows and that transforms them into the warriors they are. It’s the blood that brings forth the best of who they are and binds them together as brothers (our women firefighters included) closer than if they shared the same mother.

The warrior’s blood needs to boil. It needs to flow. It’s their common ground. It’s what they seek. As leaders this needs to be understood, acknowledged and utilized. You’re not a company officer, you are the platoon leader of elite specialized warriors. You are not a fire chief, you are the general of an army, and not an army of war and destruction, but one of peace and order. If ever there were an army of angels waging war on evil your fire department is it, and I would bet the people of your community would agree.

This is a special profession made up of special people. The appearance on the surface is neither what matters nor what makes it tick, it’s what flows beneath. It’s what flows through the veins and from the heart. It’s real. It’s unstoppable. Recognize that and tap into it. Get it flowing. Don’t waste this time in our profession when firefighters are needed the most and not just for the skills that they possess, but the people they are and what they represent. This is the greatest job in the world made up of the best people who ever walked the planet. Never forget that. Just sometimes as leaders you have to bring it forth and get it pumping.

So get up and get it back!

This article is dedicated to the men and woman of the Weathersfield, Ohio, Volunteer Fire Department Station 40 who have it right!

DANIEL BYRNE, a Contributing Editor, is a firefighter/paramedic, with the Burton, SC, Fire District. A 20-year veteran of the emergency services, he holds both an associate and bachelors degree in fire science, is a National Fire Academy Alumni, and a veteran of the Desert Shield/Storm war with the U.S. Marine Corps. Daniel is the recipient of local and state awards for public educations and relations. Daniel is moderator of the Fire Prevention and Life Safety forums on Firehouse. You can reach Daniel by e-mail at