When speaking of public servants like firefighters, police officers and our military, courage is a word that many use to describe our actions. After all we are running in when others are running out. If you were to ask a firefighter about the courage it takes to run into a burning building, odds are that they will tell you that they don't feel courageous at those moments. Mostly because there is something in a firefighter that allows them to enjoy those times. The rush of adrenaline and the energy felt while making a good push in a hot, dark fire are second to none. We can't, and don't, expect the general public to understand this.
As I've gained experience and a little age, I've learned that the kind of courage we just described is the easy part of being a firefighter or officer. The tactical and operational arena that we enjoy makes our job easy to be what others would describe as courageous. Where we struggle with courage is in the firehouse.
In my classes and presentations I discuss the importance of crew dynamics and the need to speak up when others won't. We discuss how leaders will step up and do and say the things that aren't popular or 'cool' no matter who is involved or what might be said. That is courage at it's best and one that is not talked about or promoted enough.
This post is one to encourage you to be courageous when it comes to your gear. Yes, this includes your helmet. For several years now I have always cleaned my helmet after working fires. I would take a hose to it, then scrub it with some soapy water and then rinse and wipe it down. It is definitely counter to the culture of the fire service, but it is one that I feel is desperately critical for our profession.
I had read enough of the studies and seen some of our own members get diagnosed with cancer that every time I touched my gear and helmet, I had a black residue on my hands. I began to think about not my longevity in the fire service, but the weddings and grandchildren of my own kids. Will I be around to walk my daughters down the aisle? Will be around to watch my grandchildren perform in their school's Christmas plays? These were questions that finally hit home with me that a darkened helmet was not very important.
I would be a hypocrite to tell you I have never had or still like the 'salty' look on my gear and helmet. We all know it's a sort of history of our working jobs. It tells the guy next to you at some hands on class that you work and get more fire than him. It may say, in your mind, just how much heat it has taken.
The hard and difficult truth is that cancer is a real problem for us in the fire service. It is killing our Brothers and Sisters at an alarming pace. For those that survive, it forces them to endure countless hours of treatments and feeling like crap. It creates hardships on families due to the time off needed to fight the good fight. Those that succumb to the battles with cancers leave behind spouses, children, parents and friends way to soon.
For something that should not be a discussion anymore, cleaning our gear and helmets, is still something that takes some courage to speak up for and to be an advocate for. If you are a firefighter or officer, I am asking that you muster up some courage to not worry about how cool you look, clean your gear. You officers out there, have the courage to make your members clean their gear. I know, easier said than done, but it's your job.