“It’s a Calling”
I always wanted to be a fire fighter from the moment I can remember. As a young boy in Oklahoma City, whenever I saw fire engines pulling up to a house fire, men jumping off the apparatus, deploying to attack the inferno, I was mesmerized by the sight it: the action, the precision and the control of men knowing what to do in the midst of apparent chaos. It’s hard to convey the sense of awe and respect, but think of it like this. Have you ever stood at the foot of the Empire State Building and looked straight up, or stood at the shore of the Atlantic just as a violent storm approached you? That’s how I feel whenever I pass a firehouse and see the apparatus at rest or observe fire fighters “on a job.” When I had the honor to become a fire commissioner in Woodinville Washington, just outside Seattle, I had that same sense of wonder. I remember the night I was sworn in. On the way to headquarters I kept saying to myself, “this is it, this is it, THIS IS IT!! I was never more proud of anything I ever did than when I had that responsibility besides being my wife’s husband and my children’s father. I am often asked what is it that so attracts men and now women to this profession? My wife often asks,”Why do you want to be around it all of the time?” I do not know the answer to that any more than I can tell you why my hair is black or my eyes are blue. I just know how I feel when I am around those guys and what it means to be a part of that brotherhood of goodness. I have met some of the toughest, most intelligent and kindest individuals anywhere who have chosen to become fire fighters. I never met one who just liked the profession, they loved it. I remember one time during a particular tough time in my department I was trying to reassure one of our fighters. He looked at me and said, “Don’t worry Commissioner; I still get to come out here and do this job. The only regret I have is that I can’t live my life twice and be a fire fighter all over again.” Thinking about 9-11 and the ultimate sacrifice of 343 New York City fire fighters I think about the motivation, the care and the love behind that sacrifice. And I remember the central driving force behind a fire fighter is not doing a job to pay the bills, it’s being a fire fighter. The Lebanese poet, Kalhil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” If ever there were a manifestation of those words, fire fighting is it. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.