By Brian S. Gettemeier
Father’s Day; the annual tradition in June, when we thank the man in our lives that has cared for us, mentored us and made sure we were safe. In the fire service, we often think of ourselves as a large family. So it’s not uncommon to hear firefighters refer to another firefighter as a father figure. Often, they are referring to someone from early in their career, an instructor from the fire academy, a company officer or senior firefighter that mentored them early in their career, an individual who took some time to teach them the complexity of the job.
But have we taken the time to think about and thank our fire service fathers – those individuals who provided us some mentoring and training in the early stages of our career? Many of those individuals will continue to provide mentorship and guidance throughout our careers. A forward thinking firefighter must constantly strive to find career mentors who will challenge them and help them grow in their career, and the fire service is full of excellent examples.
This Father’s Day let’s take some time to reflect on our fire service fathers’ teachings and the core values they instilled into us. Let’s appreciate the time, sacrifice, love and passion our fathers provided us to make us the firefighters we are today. They kept us safe and hopefully raised us to mentor the next generation of firefighters. For many of us, these great individuals continue to watch over us today.
Influencing the new generation of firefighters
What type of mentor will you be? For those of us who have been in the service for a little while, I encourage you to adopt a firefighter of your own. We will all become influencers in the fire service, regardless of our rank or position. Our behavior and attitude will have an influence on the new generation of firefighters, both good and bad.
Remember we were once that young eager firefighter who had something to prove. One day, many years into their career, there will be an “ah-ha” moment where they will catch themselves in the middle of a lesson you taught. They will probably smile and think briefly – he (or she) was right, but they will never thank you for it.
They say actions are louder than words. As with all mentors, sometimes the greatest lessons are not taught verbally, they are learned through your actions, the way you conduct yourself every day. New firefighters watch the way you prepare for work, perform your gear checks and treat others, and your attitude towards training. Do the right things for the right reasons, because someone is always watching.
Remember and learn from firefighter LODDs
For me, I cannot think about Father’s Day and not think about the tragedy in New York, on Father’s Day in 2001, where three firefighters lost their lives in a hardware store explosion. I was on the cusp of being a father myself and the gravity of those who rely on you at home truly sunk in for me.
This Father’s Day let us also remember that there are fathers that will not be present at any backyard BBQs, because they were lost in the line of duty. Take a moment to remember those firefighters and the families they have left behind. Learn from the situations that occurred during those events, so our families do not have to experience that pain.
Line of duty deaths do not always occur on the fire ground; fire service related cancers are killing firefighters every day. Wear your air pack, wash your gear. Our fire service fathers took great pride in polished brass poles, shiny apparatus, clean stations and dirty gear. We are finding out the cumulative effects of carcinogens. Dirty gear is no longer a badge of honor.
Likewise, fire service suicides have exceeded the average line of duty death numbers. Take some time to conduct a mental assessment and get the help from a skilled professional if the cumulative effects of the job are becoming too much. Your family needs you at home. Take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Say thank you
This Father’s Day, I am encouraging everyone in the fire service to think of a select few individuals who helped you along in your career, reach out to them and thank them. Write them a short note, send an email or make a phone call and let them know that they made a difference in your career. That little acknowledgement may serve as a little career or life boost for them.
We all got into the fire service to make a difference in our community. What we often underestimate is the positive effects of individuals who make a difference within the organization. Many times that positive difference is translated out in the streets.
On a personal note to all my fire service fathers – thank you. Some of you I have never met, but I have read your articles and books, attended your classes or watched you on video. Some of you I see more frequently but, like all kids, I might have taken you for granted or gotten too wrapped up in the rat race of life to stop and say thank you.
To my own father, thank you for all that you have done for me and for introducing me into one of the most challenging and rewarding careers. I will always cherish the fact that you took me into my first live burn exercise.
Fire service brothers and sisters, take time today to honor your fire service fathers and mentors. Happy Father’s Day to all.
About the author
Brian S. Gettemeier has been in the fire service for 25 years, with the last 22 years as a career firefighter with the Cottleville Fire Prot. Dist. of St. Charles County, Mo. Brian is a second-generation firefighter, and a married father of two daughters. He has a bachelor’s degree in Fire Service Management from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and holds numerous state certifications. He teaches all hazard classes for numerous organizations throughout the state of Missouri.