I Am A Firefighter Because…

My first white leather.  My grandfather's, actually.

My first white leather. My grandfather's, actually.

In the spirit of the Fire Blog Carnival, here is my submission:

I am a firefighter because.

Good enough?  No?  Well, I am a firefighter because I literally grew up in a firehouse.  My grandfather was a firefighter’s firefighter.  His nickname was “Smokey”.  He was the Chief Fire Marshal in Montgomery County, PA up until his death in 1981.  My uncles and my father all became firefighters as a result of his influence; not just firefighters but leaders in their field.  My father became Chief for the first time when I was young.  I was so ingrained in the culture, there was no need to explain to my brother and I the significance of his endeavor.  We knew the Chief was ‘The Man”.

My brother and I grew up listening to Philly Fire on the scanner and standing by the radio with rapt attention when Commissioner Joe Rizzo would sign on the air for a multiple alarm fire.  We met plenty of people who were the movers and shakers in the business in the 70’s and understood their vision, since both our father and grandfather were already living it.

It was my grandfather and my father’s love for the fire service that inspired our eventual decision to become firefighters ourselves.  I really believed during my rebelliousness in high school I might “break the chain”.  It only took a chance meeting with a friend of a friend before I realized there was no place I’d rather be.

From the time I signed up I enrolled in every class I could get into.  Of course there was the ribbing by the vets about my enthusiasm, but every single weekend it seemed like I was over at the Norristown State Hospital, where the Montgomery County Fire Training Center was located, taking classes.  I met so many influential people who remembered my grandfather and knew my dad and took me under their wing, and I genuinely felt like part of the brotherhood.  I guess I was lucky to have that instant credibility, because while I was taking heat from certain people about my efforts, I was being schooled by the best in the business at the time, and they loved showing me the tricks of the trade.

The short version is that I ended up in Hilton Head Island, SC where the Chief of the department at the time was also from Philly.  When he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, my obvious answer was that I planned to return to Philly and get a job with the PFD.  He asked me why I wouldn’t stick around and help BUILD a department, one in a community with the potential for exponential growth.  The thought appealed to me so much that I took him up on the offer.

The lessons I have learned over the years and the friendships I have shared are the influence behind Firehouse Zen.  While I had the fortune of being mentored by the best, not every firefighter has exposure to that kind of culture, especially if their department isn’t supportive of sending them to classes, or encouraging them to network, or even encouraging their reading the new texts or industry mags.  The internet, however, has given me the opportunity to share what I have with anyone interested and anyone with access to a computer can hear some of what I hope to encourage as best practices in leading within a rapidly changing environment.

I may never meet some of you, but I feel like I know you all intimately.  We share a love for the tradition and honor of the fire service.  We understand what it means to fulfill hundreds of years of culture and service.  We also understand our need to embrace new challenges, to learn and evolve, to change and to become more mature and better equipped for what waits ahead of us.  We are in a brotherhood like no other.

I am a firefighter because honestly, I can’t ever imagine being anything but.  I have spent the last 28 years reporting to a place I call my second home every third day, whether or not I am sick, whether or not a hurricane was on the horizon, whether or not it was sunny outside, or Christmas, or any other thing in the world.  While I am a chief officer and an educator, and have titles and credentials and everything else, when someone asks me what it is I do for a living, I am proud to say, “I am a firefighter.”

2 Comments

  • Patrick W. Mayers says:

    Good article Mike. Having a heritage and utilizing it as an aide to “Go to the Future” vs “Living in the Past” and hanging on to “But we always did it this way” has stiffled may very persons in the field. Progress is made not just as a Department but by individuals. You and Brian have done well and Smokey would be proud of you,

  • Angie Mayers-Georgiadis says:

    I started the fire service only a few years back. When I started, everyone knew who I was.. I was Pat’s kid, Chuck’s niece, and “Smokey’s” granddaughter. I grew up in the fire/EMS service too – and I can’t imagine it not being part of my life. I never had the chance to know my grandfather, but the stories that I hear from my father and other “old-timers” in the fire service tell me he was an amazing man. His legacy and the legacy of his followers have forged a great path in the Montgomery County, PA area.
    We have so many new methods and ways to do the things that we need to do, but it all comes down to one thing: make it home at the end of the day. I think about what my grandfather would think of his children and grandchildren following in his footsteps – and I can’t help but think that he is smiling on all of us today.
    Take the time to talk with those “old-timers” – they have amazing stories of the way they did it “back in the day”. Our heritage is rich and full of people willing to share what they have experienced.
    My family… my grandfather and my father most of all, are why I became a firefighter.

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