7 keys to rebuilding the fire service brotherhood and sisterhood

It’s incumbent on every member to help build a supportive culture at the firehouse, one that captures the spirit of serving and invests in the emotional needs of crews


By John Cuomo

“From tragedy to triumph, an event that galvanized the nation,” one football analyst commented two weeks after the shocking cardiac arrest of Damar Hamlin in the middle of an NFL game.

Fans in the stadium were visibly upset and the announcers were struggling to speak; however, those hardest hit were the players. Not just Hamlin’s fellow Bills players, but the opposing Cincinnati Bengals players as well. They encircled the emergency workers performing life-saving techniques on Hamlin. They remained together, holding hands and praying, even after he was rushed off the field in an ambulance.

A fan holds a poster honoring injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin before an NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.
A fan holds a poster honoring injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin before an NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

Players from all over the sports world tweeted and texted their support. There was no competition, just love. What I saw in the aftermath of this incident was not only beautiful and amazing, it was inspiring. This is the type of love I wish all of humanity had for each other.

So where is the lesson for us?

The decline of the fire service brotherhood and sisterhood

I was listening to a podcast recently in which a Navy SEAL was being interviewed. In the interview, he made the statement that as Navy SEALs, many times “we eat our own, we are our own worst enemy.”

Unfortunately, this same attitude, at times, pervades the fire service as well.

In my first year on the job, the wife of one of the veteran firefighters died. Only five fellow firefighters attended her funeral. Five! I couldn’t believe it. As I watched this man sob, enduring his tremendous loss, I asked myself, what happened to the fire service brotherhood I had heard so much about?

Being in and around the fire service for 30 years now, I have learned that this was not an isolated incident, nor was my department the only one like this. This is not meant to bash the service or its members, but to help it – and that starts with you and me.

The fire service family

How can we help the brotherhood? Following are several ways you can help if your department shows areas of decline in this arena.

1. Set the example. Get to know all the brothers and sisters you work with. Have a kind, friendly and open demeanor. Smile as much as you can. Kindness and happiness are contagious – if you start being this person every day it will catch on with others.

2. Model humility. Humility actually draws people to you, whereas pride pushes people away. It takes great strength to be a humble person, but all should display this attitude in the fire service, especially upon promotion. Where ego and pride build walls up, humility draws people closer. There is no greater way to teach and help others than to do it with a humble attitude.

3. Practice acceptance. Today, U.S. fire departments reflect the great diversity of our nation like never before. We must be completely accepting of every single person and treat them with the same respect, dignity, kindness and care that we would our own family members. By doing this, we make them an extension of our family and bring that bond to the service.

4. Be generous with praise. Some people find it easier to constantly tear others down rather than praise them. Perhaps it’s due to jealousy or their own lack of self-esteem but go against the grain here and be liberal with praise and commendation. Nothing makes a person feel better and like a valued member of a team than recognition for their hard work.

5. Offer gratitude. Be grateful for a job where you are blessed to serve others. Be grateful for your brothers and sisters serving alongside you. Be grateful for the gift of life today. Gratitude will make you a happy person and that happiness will catch on and bring others close to you.

6. Extend understanding. While Hamlin’s collapse during the football game shocked spectators, it was a sight many of us see every day, multiple times a day. In an average year, around 240 million 911 calls are made in the U.S. That averages out to over 600,000 calls per day. Even though we train and try to be prepared for it, these types of scenes played out in front of us constantly will have an effect on us, on top of the other pressures that come with life – raising children, relationships, money issues, health problems, death of loved ones and so much more. Remember, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Let’s be that support for others.

7. Spread love. Love is the glue that maintains the family bond. It is the greatest quality and I believe the answer to all of humanity’s problems. Maya Angelo once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Show your love for others; let them see it and let them feel it.

Rebuild and strengthen firehouse bonds

The brotherhood and sisterhood bond is often referenced when talking about firefighters. At times, though, it can be lacking in our firehouses. Rumors, backstabbing, politics and other things can break up our family bond. We should be the ones to set the example for our communities by dropping the divisions among us and coming together as one. We start by doing it in our fire service family, in ourselves, and help lead others down the same path.

Let our love galvanize the nation, as love never fails.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Cuomo worked in the fire service for 24 years, serving as a firefighter, paramedic, driver/engineer, lieutenant, captain, step-up battalion chief, step-up training chief and step-up EMS chief. He also served as the pension representative for the police and firefighter pension fund for 10 years.

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