Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whats in a name? "Brotherhood"

{ As a preface to this piece, let's just accept that the word "Brotherhood" refers to both genders, okay? I could go into how I work with members of both sexes and it really doesn't matter to me what sex they are, or if they are gay or straight. I have cried and laughed with all, and yes, occasionally I ask for help from someone of a specific sex because of the skills that individual brings to the game. That has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with what would serve the incident best. I consider all those I work with as "Brothers" regardless of the name we choose to throw on it. They are partners, comrades, and co-workers who share a special bond built through common work, trust, and sometimes suffering.)

 When I joined the Department, somebody reached out a hand and said "Welcome to the Brotherhood". I smiled, shook his hand, and just mumbled 'Thanks". At the time, to me it was the equivalent statement as saying " Welcome to the club", "Welcome to the group", or "Welcome to the nuthouse". In other words, I didn't understand what that Firefighter was humbly and earnestly trying to tell me. I thought it was just a casual expression. He intended it as a solemn promise. He meant "We've got your back ... always", "We'll take care of you", "We'll train you up right", and "We're counting on you to be part of the team". I just heard a feeble welcome without understanding the heartfelt and meaningful true sentiment that was earnestly offered. Stupid me, I had a lot to learn, and I am a slow learner some times.
 Ever so slowly I did learn and come to appreciate what being part of the Brotherhood meant. Many things we learn in life can only truly be understood through experience. There were good times at social events, tough days on the training ground, mistakes made on the job, and routine tasks requiring help that I had to ask for, and therefore learned to work with others I would not have chosen on my own. Then there were the tough times: the fatal fires when I could find nothing better to do than sit on the side during rehab and cry with a big burly smelly blubbering Brother. The bad car accidents where we could do nothing for those involved. Back at the station cleaning up, everybody spent a lot of time looking at the floor while they shuffled through their chores.
 There were wakes and funerals for past and current members where we all felt as if we were one family and occasionally were a big part of the member's actual family. We all put our own lives on hold to 'do a proper job' and provide the proper send off. We remember those folks in our daily lives as we respond to calls and we honor them by bringing up their names in situations where we know they would have excelled or enjoyed. We miss them in a very real sense.
 After a few years I thought I had this "Brotherhood" thing figured out and I was one of the guys greeting new members and saying "Welcome to the Brotherhood" with true meaning in my heart.
 Turned out I still had more to learn.
 As part of my daily study in the Fire and EMS world I learned of the tragic passing, in the Line of Duty, of a Brother many miles away who I had never met. The story of his death struck me in a profound way which I still do not fully understand. So compelled was I by the nature of his death, that I put my life and family on hold and traveled 700 miles to attend his memorial service. It was a moving and draining experience. I then broke the ice by speaking with his "family", those in his Agency. In the years that followed I have built friendships within that Agency and visit them every year. They have welcomed me into their fold without question and I can enter their station, watch their TV, eat their food, and share their conversations as if I belonged there. This whole experience has brought a new level to the term "Brotherhood" in my mind, and I think I really get it now.
 On the other side of the coin, I have also gained some disdain for those who tout that they are "Brothers" when in fact they don't have a clue. They probably have stickers on their POV that proclaims how they are a kick-ass firefighter. How they 'find 'em hot and leave them wet' and all sorts of other bravado, but when it comes right down to it, they turn out to be non-starters. They have no heart.  These are the same folks that say "I save lives, what do you do?". They have all the t-shirts with catchy sayings. These folks don't do the rest of us any good. They like to hang on that "hero" label. The fact is, almost all of these folks don't have a clue. They don't get it....yet. Our job is to pull them in and give them that clue they need. Stop the back biting, second guessing, and ill-thought commentary that they produce. If we don't bring them around, they will suck the life out of the rest of us. Sometimes being a 'Brother' means you have to tell somebody things they don't want to hear about themselves.
 It's an honor to be part of this Brotherhood, but it's also a responsibility.

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