As I am preparing to embark on a new journey with the Anchorage (AK) Fire Department I wanted to reflect on why I am here and what the fire service means to me. Of course I am not as eloquent as some of my mentors so I’ll borrow a few of their ideas and summarize them here.
Pride: defined by Google (the source of all knowledge) a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired. From that definition, I have a lot to be proud of as I join the Anchorage Fire Department team and continue my service in the greatest profession on earth. As I think about Pride I think about a story told by a mentor of mine, Retired Fire Chief Rick Lasky:
We were working a fire in an old school building. We were on the second floor chasing fire in the void spaces, cutting floor away and opening up walls. I began to notice a crew across the room trying to get their saw started. This went on for a while. A couple of them put their axes down to help try and start it, forgetting that their axes will always do the one thing their saw won’t. Start.
While this was going on, Lieutenant Tom Shervino looked to his chief and said, “Let me go get my saw, chief.” Tommy said it again, and the chief said to wait a minute longer. But Tommy persisted. Finally his chief gave in and said, “Go get your saw Tom.” So off Tom went. Soon he returned with his saw. One pull, and it started and off he was cutting. A short time later he stopped, went into the hallway, refueled his saw, and was back cutting. He knew when his saw was going to run out of fuel before it did. He knew how to start it. He knew everything about it because it was his saw. By the way, the other crew never got their saw started.
I first thought, How arrogant, “my saw”! Later, when I was outside getting ready to pick up and return to quarters, I saw Tom and asked him what he meant by “his saw.” He looked at me a bit confused and said, “That’s not my saw. That’s Oak Lawn’s saw. But it’s my saw today and that’s my squad. That’s my company.” They weren’t his personal items, but he owned them that day—on his
shift. Then it hit me. This guy was proud of his department, proud of his company, and proud of his tools, and with this pride came ownership.
Integrity: As firefighters we are in a position of “public trust”. From the definition of pride we have “qualities that are widely admired”. We are expected to maintain the highest standards of character and moral character. This begins with each and every one of us individually. It takes more to have integrity than simply the words, we must live it each and every day. Integrity means you hold yourself and others accountable. You check your equipment, you check the rigs, and you work out each and every day. It also means you do your job and as the recently passed Chief Brunacini would say, “be nice” even when it’s difficult.
Having Integrity means that we’ll also fight the phenomena known as normalization of deviance. We’ll resist the urge to cut corners and accept anything less than the best from ourselves. Remember the explosions of the space shuttle Columbia and Challenger were not surprises. They were the result of accepting less than the best and a systemic breakdown in integrity not by a single individual but by the collective.
Honor: The final quality is honor. The idea of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, belonging to the group, the brotherhood that is the fire service. In my experience this is the hardest quality to understand especially for family and friends who do not get the privilege to live it day in and day out. Our sense of honor means we will always be there for each other both on duty and off. It means we will ask the hard questions to ensure we are all taken care of both physically and mentally. Another of my favorite quote sums up the idea of honor concisely: “I am not here for me, I am here for we, and we are here for them”.
Chicago Fire Chief John Eversole, “Our department takes 1,120 calls every day. Do you know how many of the calls the public expects perfection on? 1,120. Nobody calls the fire department and says, ‘Send me two dumb-ass firemen in a pickup truck.’ In three minutes they want five brain-surgeon decathlon champions to come and solve all their problems.” I suppose in my role as a Fire Training Specialist it is my duty to ensure the members of Anchorage Fire Department have the best chance at not being a couple dumbass firemen in a pickup truck.