The Brotherhood is a Lie
That’s right. The title is referring to the Fire Service Brotherhood. Before you amass a posse and begin an assault on ELAFF HQ, I ask that you read this post to the last word. After that, please share your opinions…positive or negative.
I’ve been working on this post for a few months now. Until recently, it was merely a set of scattered ideas, floating around in my mind without a central focus to tether them all together. This week, I found my focus. A group of firefighters in Georgia uploaded a video to Youtube, showing an outrageous “rookie prank” which they carried out.
Here is the video:
My immediate thought after viewing this video was,”Wow…these guys are crazy!”
I planned on leaving it at that, with no further comment. As usual, I continued to follow the chatter on Statter911. I enjoy observing the varying opinions of Statter’s readers, and their reactions towards one another. The comments began to follow two, distinct paths.
The overwhelming majority of comments voiced disgust and disapproval. Those are the comments I agree with. The small number of opposing comments accosted the dissenters with accusations of overreaction and over-sensitivity.
I fail to see the supposed “innocence” of this “prank”. Ask any ELAFF Local and they will tell you that I am a supporter of firehouse fun and harmless tom-foolery. This prank, however, crossed the line. It may have caused mental trauma to the recipient, and even more likely, it could have resulted in serious injury or death. Don’t believe it? I’ll explain…
What if an off-duty member, carrying a legal and permitted concealed weapon, stopped by the station for a visit? How about a local law enforcement officer seeking a cup of coffee and some small talk. The city that this department protects has seen an increase in violent crime in recent years. If an armed firefighter or law officer entered the station to find his comrades being forced to the floor by a masked gunman, they would most likely react quickly. If they had entered the room as the firecrackers exploded, sounding like gunfire and adding to the realism of the mock execution, I’m sure they would have reacted aggressively. The ironic tragedy of a mock gunman being shot by an uninformed hero would have changed the tone of those supportive comments, and silenced any laughter.
Now, back to the Brotherhood and the focus of this post. There was one comment that veered to the extreme end of the supportive spectrum. It immediately struck a nerve and spurred me to tie those scattered ideas into a solid post. Here it is verbatim:
“You guys are such negative nancy’s. What happened to the brotherhood in the fire department? You are all too busy trying to throw them under the bus. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? As far as the prank being dangerous? I hate to tell you but F.D. Doesn’t mean fire department, but rather freaking dangerous.”
What happened to brotherhood? It doesn’t exist…it is a lie. At least, the “brotherhood” of which this comment speaks is a lie. It seems to be increasingly common for newer members of the fire service to EXPECT the brotherhood. They believe that as soon as they get some bunker gear, they are a solid link in the chain of fire service brethren…and that this link can never be severed. Nope. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The TRUE brotherhood between firefighters must be earned, and to keep it, you must stay true to the profession. You can get your issued t-shirt, or pager, or union decal for your truck…but that doesn’t make you a Brother. Don’t get me wrong. Senior firefighters should be there for the rookies. They should answer their questions, mentor them, even give them a little razzing when they get too cocky. Don’t shun the new guys, but make sure they know that they still have something to prove before they fully become a Brother.
Earning a place in the Brotherhood doesn’t require a working fire and an act of heroism, either. I recall a firehouse visit by a German fireman(feuerwehrmann). He spoke little English and had never stepped foot in our house before. We began to tour the station and apparatus; through broken English, hand signals, and my very basic understanding of German (thanks to my German roots) we began to communicate. His “detailed” questions about hose lays, pump rate, equipment, and tactics shone brightly through the language barrier. This was a Brother. He knew firefighting. He lived it. He didn’t leave it behind like a businessman on vacation. He didn’t ask lame questions about flashing lights and sirens. With less than 50 actual, spoken words…he EARNED my trust…and proved his status as a Brother. I assume that by gladly sharing our house and rigs, and by answering his questions with enthusiasm, pride, and knowledge…we earned HIS trust, as well.
Being a member of the Brotherhood goes beyond joining the department and wearing a t-shirt. It is more complex than simply wearing a pager and has no correlation to the amount of lights on your P.O.V. Being a member of the Brotherhood is about looking out for your Brothers. Putting them, and the civilians you protect, before yourself…and not just on the fireground. Being a Brother requires constant training. Brothers drop the remote and pick up the weights, so that they’ll be prepared for the next call. They take a break from talking about football at the kitchen table, so that they can run through a scenario or critique a previous call. Brothers take part in as much training as possible, even the courses that AREN’T required by the department. They spend spare time going over the rigs, looking for subtle changes which could make the next run flow a bit smoother. To Brothers, the fire service is more than a way to earn a paycheck, or a way to pick up chicks. It takes dedication and commitment to be a Brother. For that reason, not EVERY fire department member is a TRUE Brother Firefighter.
Too often these days, when news of a misbehaving firefighter hits the internet, some whacker-troll jumps out of the shadows screaming about the “brotherhood”. The idiots in Georgia may have been Brothers last week. Then, they pulled this “prank” and posted it on Youtube. They endangered themselves and made their department (and therefore the ENTIRE American fire service) a joke. They disgraced the Brotherhood, and thereby forfeited their privilege as a member. Yes, “privilege”. Not “right”. IF they are allowed to remain in this profession, they will have to EARN that privilege again.
To simply defend their actions because of the “brotherhood” is ridiculous. If a rogue firefighter decides to light a random house on fire for kicks, would you stand behind his actions because he’s a “brother”? What if he inadvertently killed somebody; would you support his act of arson under the veil of “brotherhood”? What if the victim was ALSO a “brother” firefighter?
I’ll stand by my Brothers through a lot, but when they start breaking laws and endangering lives, they go against the very morals that hold the Brotherhood together. I can’t consider someone like that a Brother, and I doubt they were ever one to begin with. If they had time to plan an elaborate stunt like the one above, then they also had time to train or hit the gym. They chose not to, and therefore chose to avoid the Brotherhood.
I have no problem with somebody supporting the “gunman pranksters” above. If you think it was a harmless prank, fair enough. If you think that no harm was done, fine.
Just don’t use the Brotherhood as your default defense. To some of us, it has a meaning which runs deeper than your superficial understanding.
(Credit to the following blogs for extra motivation and inspiration on this post: Jason Jefferies’ Working the Job, Chris Brennan’s Fire Service Warrior, and Taj Meyers’ QueenCityBurns. Read those posts.)