I recently watched the movie “300” and find it to be inspiring and historically interesting. I have seen it maybe three or four times and this most recent viewing it made me stop and think. These Spartans were a proud, honorable and highly trained group of men and society. It was an honor to die protecting Sparta.
Sound familiar? The fire service should be a place that we are proud, honorable and in trying to save a life, we are revered for giving our lives to save another. At least that is the way it used to be. I got to thinking: “Is this still the case?”
What to do we do while we are at work? What do we do on our time off? How do we present our profession to others? How do we honor and respect our traditions and past? All of these questions were rattling around in my head.
I have heard people in our own profession mock some of these questions, not necessarily directly, but the way they act and present themselves as part of the fire service. They demean new ideas and traditions alike. They don’t like training or reading the trade journals. These people would rather become an expert in anything else but fighting fire!
We all have them in our organizations and we will never completely get rid of them. The problem is that we have officers with this attitude and it gets passed down to the new people as a way of life. We have to stop this and keep that poison away from the new folks. We have a responsibility to keep the fire alive in the fire service. How do we do this?
Our attitude everyday has to be about pride, honor and integrity! (Thanks, Chief Lasky!) We have to pass on why we do the things we do and why we don’t do other things, like the things that get us needlessly killed and injured. We are our brother’s keeper and we must take that responsibility seriously. The public is our customer and if they want a fire truck at a block party, there should be one there. When someone is denigrating the fire service or a fire service related topic, they should be stopped in their tracks. Pride, honor and integrity, it matters.
Officers have to create an environment and culture that encourages ideas and improvement of their people. Don’t isolate and bring them down. Raise the level of performance by training regularly and discussing new trends. Read the trade journals and instill this as a regular part of the day for the new people. They will think that this is how everyday is and it will live on and get passed down to the next generation. Give your people every opportunity to succeed.
As people who love the fire service, some make it a job and others make it their life. I say make it both, not at the expense of family or other important parts of your life, but it should be high on the list. I maintain that the fire service is a way of life, not an occupation or job. We have jobs to do to maintain our way of life, but not just for the sake of doing it. Too many before us have made the ultimate sacrifice for others to live and we should not reduce what they did as just part of the job, it was a way of their life; to give selflessly and to put others first.
Make sure that when you train and come to work everyday you are doing everything you can to instill pride. Make sure you are instilling honor in your crews and peers. Make sure you are instilling and promoting integrity. Everyday. Every shift.
Let’s train to be Spartans. Spartans of the fire service, valuing the good of the whole, not of individuals. Valuing pride, honor and integrity.

Stay safe,

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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 19, 2009 at 8:52am
Thanks, it's all good. Once all of my classes are finished I would like to read some of that. Thanks again.
Comment by Ben Waller on May 19, 2009 at 12:30am

One of the things about blogging is that you get to decide what you blog about. Don't let my opinion or anyone else's change that. If you have an opinion, share it. Just because I looked at your blog from a different perspective doesn't take away anything from your topic or your opinion.

If you feel strongly about something, put it out there and stick to your guns. Differing perspectives are healthy for our profession as long as we keep the discussion civil. Thanks for blogging something that stimulated some thought.

I really liked the movie, too. If you want to read more about Thermopylae, read Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Bantam is the publisher, and it's available in hardcover, paperback, or for Kindle at your local bookseller.

Leonidas' answer to the Persian king's demand that the Spartans lay down their weapons in return for having their lives spared is engraved on the monument to the Spartans at Thermopylae today. It simply reads "Molon Labe". The English translation..."Come and get them."

Leonidas' legendary statement ranks with the one Captain Edward Kennedy of the armed merchantman Rawalpindi made when he turned turned his ship toward the German battleship Scharnhorst to give the convoy he was protecting time to escape. As the Rawalpindi put itself between the Scharnhorst and the convoy, the Scharnhorst's sister battleship the Gneisenau emerged from the mist. Kennedy's only recorded comment..."We'll just fight them both."
Leonidas would have understood.
Comment by Brian Dumser on May 18, 2009 at 8:47pm
"This is where we fight, and this is where they die!" Sorry, as a former soldier, that's my favorite quote from the movie. Stay safe!
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 18, 2009 at 9:51am
No worries, it initially made me exasperated, but hey, if you can't take the heat don't put it out there for others to read, right? I understand and looking back, I get your point. I will more carefully choose my topics from now on : )
Comment by Ben Waller on May 17, 2009 at 10:24pm
Jason, I'm not bashing you or your point at all. The issues you bring up can have different interpretations, depending upon the reciever's perspective, that's all.

I firmly believe that the fire service has "Duty, Honor, Country" in our mission statement, whether an individual department has specifically spelled it out or not. Individual bravery can be very important, but so is a rational risk-benefit assessment - every time. Chief Crocker's statement about when a firefighter becomes a hero is what I'm thinking of here.

Thanks for sharing your perspective.
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 17, 2009 at 9:04pm
Okay, I understand that. Take it for it's worth and I was trying to make a point. Not give a specific history lesson.
Comment by Ben Waller on May 17, 2009 at 8:29pm
Jason, I understand what you're saying and I agree with a lot of it, but there are some differences between the Spartans of old and modern firefighters and medics. They were geared up to take life, while we gear up to save it.

When their husbands, brothers, and sons were leaving for battle, the Spartan women would tell them "Come home carrying your shield or being carried on it." In other words, win or die trying. That concept is based on the military concept of "acceptable losses". When you are fighting a human enemy, sometimes individual losses are acceptable.

Fire-Rescue and EMS services should not have the term "acceptable loss" in our vocabulary.
Unlike the military, we don't fight a human enemy, we fight forces of nature and technology. Those enemies are not thinking entities so they can't be impressed by individual courage. While individual courage has its place in our profession, unlike the military, we can't overwhelm our enemies with it.

Fire-Rescue and EMS systems are made up not only of the whole, but of individuals as well. While the entire Fire-Rescue and EMS families feel it every time we lose a LODD, that LODD is still suffered individually by the firefighter or medic and by that person's family. As a Navy Admiral said at one of the 9/11 memorial services, "We didn't lose 3,000 people on 9/11, we lost 1 person 3,000 times."

When I leave home for work, my wife doesn't tell me "...carrying your shield or on it." She tells me that she loves me and to be safe during my shift. I can live with the difference...literally.
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 17, 2009 at 11:39am
You are correct though, most are preventable.
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 17, 2009 at 11:38am
I understand that, but many have died in circumstances that may have indicated a victim. I do not condone reckless behavior, but there are plenty who made the ultimate sacrafice for the right reasons.
Comment by FETC on May 17, 2009 at 11:36am
Too many before us have made the ultimate sacrifice for others to live and we should not reduce what they did as just part of the job, it was a way of their life; to give selflessly and to put others first.

Jason, to be honest the sad part is if you were to look into the root cause of most line of duty deaths, you would find that very few firefighters actually die in the line of duty from giving their lives so others may live... Heart attacks and motor vehicle collisions total almost 3/4 of our annual deaths.

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