First Due: The Love that We Share

Oct. 1, 2020
Reginald Freeman explains why the brotherhood and sisterhood trumps everything else that's going on around us.

Civil unrest and protests have embroiled various cities across our great nation for several months now because of several shootings that involved law enforcement. Family, friends and co-workers alike have had passionate, genuine and emotional conversations about race, policing, social justice and basic rights. For many of us, these conversations took place on the apparatus, in the dayroom and/or at the kitchen table. 

My fire service career started 20 years ago in Mississippi as a firefighter/EMT. The racism and discrimination that I was subjected to in Mississippi by my fire department family fueled my drive to one day become chief of the department. I wanted to be in a position to ensure that no one ever had to feel the way that I did just because of who he/she is.

As a service-oriented professional, you must be passionate about people and service if you want to enjoy the privilege of wearing our distinguished uniform. You must accept everyone as they are regardless of whether they are a citizen or they are a fire department brother or sister. You must have the courage to speak up and challenge anyone who makes racist, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic or belittling statements irrespective of whether they are made in private or in public.


Although we might come from different walks of life, come from different parts of town, practice different religions or have different beliefs, we have one thing in common: the love that we share for our profession. In some instances, our fire department family is there for us when our family by birth is not. Individuals who aren’t firefighters would have a difficult time processing why that is, but we firefighters immediately can answer that question. We have a special bond with our fire department family. We bled together. We cried together. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. We consoled one another after a tough call. We shared a grin and a tip of the hat on scene of a working structure fire through the roar of the diesel engines, pumps and chirping air packs and the unique smell of the structure fire. That is what it means to be a member of the fire service.

It is up to all of us to make sure that we aren’t just listening to our brothers and sisters in the firehouse but that we hear everything that they say. It is time for us to have courageous conversations in a healthy manner and listen twice as much as we talk. It only makes sense, right, given that we have two ears but one mouth? I joke, of course, but in all seriousness, as a family, it is incumbent upon us all to not only have one another’s back on the fireground but in the firehouse, too. A lot of our fire department family suffer in silence, because they are afraid of being judged, rejected or isolated. That shouldn’t be the case in any of the roughly 25,000 fire departments across these great United States. There must be an effort to truly understand other perspectives. When was the last time that you asked a fellow firefighter, who might be emotionally affected by current events in the media that pertain to social justice, “What are your thoughts on this?” or “What is it that I can do to be supportive of you?”

Teams support each other

I don’t care whether it is a single or multi-alarm job: We can’t be successful working by ourselves. That same teamwork mindset should be maintained when it is time for us to be supportive on or off duty. The love that we share for our profession and for our fire department family truly is unique. We have more in common than we have different. Let us make sure that we never forget that and that we stay focused on what is important, which is having each other’s back and completing our department’s mission. 

About the Author

Reginald Freeman

Reginald D. Freeman is the fire chief/emergency management director for Hartford, CT. Previously, he served as the international fire chief for Lockheed Martin and as a civilian fire chief in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense. He holds a bachelor’s degree in leadership from Bellevue University and a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. Freeman is pursuing his doctorate in organizational leadership. He also is a graduate and Fellow of Harvard University’s Senior Executives for State & Local Government program at the Kennedy School of Government. He served as the chair of the Industrial Fire and Life Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Freeman serves on the board of directors for NFPA. He is an adjunct professor for Anna Maria College and the University of Florida, where he lectures in both undergraduate and graduate fire science and public administration programs.

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