I wish I could have written you this letter and actually sent it back in time. There is so much I need and want to tell you, yet so much more that I’m still learning as time goes by. Maybe that’s a message in itself ?
I know you wont believe me and that you have your own plan and ways of thinking / doing things but TRUST ME… shut up and listen to what I’m about to tell you. You’re smart, strong and forward thinking BUT not nearly as much as you may think. You already have a wife and two beautiful daughters. At such a young and impressionable age, you’ve already faced many difficult challenges and I’m not talking about going through doors… that’s the easy part.
I don’t even know how you made it this far but I think it says a lot about your work ethic, values and who you are / will become. Despite all I know today, I’m still proud of you.
Your path, to this point; has not been easy. It has actually been one that despite the good times / memories, you would not wish upon anyone else. I still don’t know if there was any one thing or anyone to blame but what I do know is that it was not your fault and blame will not change the past. As a young boy / man, you were forced to “step up”, take responsibilities and handle situations that no child your age should have to, but; you did and you will continue to “step up” to challenging situations throughout your adult life. That’s what defines you… it’s who you are.
You’ve always given 100% to everything you do but I want to ask you to hold back on this one. Save a little for your family, the ones who love you; and to keep a little for yourself. You are still naive, yet full of life, humility and compassion. The job will demand these qualities from you but it will also strip you of them over time…. be careful of that.
You will be surrounded by all of the right people but you will emulate and try to impress all the wrong ones. What you believe it means to be a fireman and what this job is all about couldn’t be more wrong at this point in your life.
You are going to see and do things you never imagined. They will impact and “harden” you over time. You will try to build a “facade”, “wall” or “outer shell” around the fragile boy you once were but it will not work. You will only fool those who don’t matter and isolate yourself while hurting the ones you love by keeping them away.
You’ll fall for the easy distractions / temptations found in a bottle or on the dance floor at the local bars. They don’t work either. These decisions will only mar your name / reputation and bring more hurt to you, your wife, family and those around you. They are destructive, temporary distractions and will not erase the pain you’re feeling inside.
Working 24 hr tours on this job is hard on everyone. You’re going to miss events due to work but don’t miss them for other reasons. Go to that school play, first dance, ball game or whatever. Don’t put your family in a position to hate or blame the job because of your absence at home. Don’t put yourself in that position.
You’ll spend way too much time out with “the boys”. You’ll do it because they “understand” you. They have been where you’ve been and seen what you’ve seen…. well… that plus they’re a blast to hang out with. But, you need to know that you can find (and have) that same comfort at home if you will only open up and share what you’re feeling with Donna and the girls. You raised a strong and understanding family who are more than capable of helping to carry your burden. Your two worlds (Firehouse and home) can co-exist if you will let them.
Put as much (or more) effort into growing your family as you do your career. You will climb the promotional ladder quickly (Captain by 2000) but fail at developing / maturing as a husband, father, brother, son etc. The “Brotherhood” you’ll come to love so dearly extends well beyond the firehouse and should always include your family. You don’t have to loose your passion for the job, just develop that same passion at home. If, when you reach your goals; you’re standing there alone then you’ve really accomplished nothing. Never forget those who got you to where you are.
People will look up to you. They will try to emulate your actions and want to become more like you. REMEMBER THAT and act accordingly. Not just on the fire ground either. They are always watching, always listening. You are responsible for your actions and everything you do may affect how others act as well. Lead by example, others are depending on that.
The role of a Company Officer and Leadership is more than teaching your members strategies and tactics. The seemingly most simple decisions you make everyday on on the job could be the determining factor as to whether or not any of you go home at the end of tour. Those same decisions can also affect the quality of life and career longevity for both you and your crew. In today’s Fire Service, we are loosing 100 or more Brothers and Sisters per year to Line Of Duty Deaths! What’s more staggering is how we are loosing them. We are not killing firemen in burning buildings. We are killing them through our life style (if you will). They are dying from heart attacks, cancer, strokes, MVAs and even Suicide! Think about that.
Wear your mask… every time, all the time! Car fires, dumpster fires, rubbish fires etc. Wash that nasty gear including your gloves, hood and helmet liner. How much smoke you can eat or how “salty” you look doesn’t define you as a fireman…. it gives you cancer.
Take better care of yourself. Eat more healthy. A salad every now and ten will not decrease your manhood. Work out every day and I’m not talking about feeding the cows or building fence etc. WORK OUT. Stay in shape… your strength and stamina will be called upon many times throughout your career and you do NOT want to let these folks down!
Ease up (STOP) the drinking. You don’t have to be “that” guy. You dont have to drink every beer in the bar to be the most popular person and who cares if you are or are not? People will like you for who you are and what you stand for or they wont. Have a beer, have a good time… take Donna and the girls… tell a few jokes, a few “war stories” but it’s like eating smoke … you don’t have to drink every beer in the bar to show em who you are.
Share what you know and have learned. Talk to your members. It’s not something you’re used to doing. You’re good at teaching “on the street” strategies and tactics but go beyond that and TALK to your boys in the house. Help them in all aspects. Share what you’re thinking and feeling. Tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing… where you hope it will lead and the results you expect. Open up… just be honest with them no matter how much it will hurt.
Share it all. The good and the bad. Tell them your mistakes in hopes that they wont repeat them. You have some dark times ahead of you that will result in your knowing the taste of Hopps 9 . I wish I knew what to tell you here.
Our brother Jack will kill himself on December 30, 2012. His death will change you forever. It will take you to places you’ve never imagined.
You’ll suffer grief, depression, PTSD and more. You’ll become lost in the “haze” of life and your alcoholism will soon take control. The Fire Department that you’ve sacrificed so much for over the years will drop you quickly. You’ll be told to “suck it up”, get back to work and “do your job” but you wont be able to.
I don’t know if this letter can stop what happened that night or just prolong it. I can tell you that following Jackson’s death you opened up and talked about your feelings and Mental Health a lot. You actually went on the road speaking and teaching about your experience. You’ll help people by doing this. I’ll also tell you that his loss was not worth the cost.
Firemen are NOT super heroes… we are HUMANS …with feelings such as compassion and humility. The things we see and do on a daily basis effect and hurt us. NOT ALL WOUNDS ARE VISIBLE. You’ll learn that the cold, hungry and unattended children have affected you more than you knew. What took you so long? Why did Jack have to die for you to see and understand the hurt we’ve undertaken and inflicted? Yes… inflicted. It’s NOT worth it.
Start now. Ask questions… pull at their “guts”. Find the answer to the “why?”. Accept that we are a chosen few but don’t damn those who follow our calling.
Just be good. You know what that means.
It will grow into “DTRT” (Do The Right Thing) but it’s all the same. Be a good person. Be a good employee. Be a good co-worker. Be a good Boss. Be a good leader. Be a good mentor. Be a good HUMAN being. It’s THAT simple!
I want to tell you to hold your breath 10 more seconds on Madison…. he’s behind the couch.
She’s going to jump and you can’t stop it…. close your eyes.
I want to tell you to leave the line and get to the back bedroom on Cherry but she was already gone.
Figure a way to cover the mother while cutting her daughter out … you’re going to be in there with her for a while.
You need to go right on Salem Ave and look between the bed and wall … those little fellas went as far as they could. Tell Scott how sorry you are that he had to be the one to find them.
She’s in the hallway on Tillet. Knowing that wont make a difference but you don’t need to see it.
I could tell you to send “Boots” to an “ENT” Doctoer , to send Chris and Bobbie to a Doc, to have Jessie mark off sick and more and more and more. Again… I’m not trying change fate. I wish I could.
If you continue down the same path, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! Again I’ll say that I don’t know how you’ve made it this far as long as you have considering the path you’ve chosen. You’ve always had reason to “make it” but I’m not so sure you’ve always understood exactly what (or who) they were.
Although a Noble calling, there is more to this life than service to others. In addition, always keep in mind that service to others also means sacrifice by yourself and many more. Weigh your options. Self sacrifice is one thing but sacrifice of one’s family is another.
I don’t have the answers and I’m not sure we ever will. All that I know is that this job is the hand we were dealt and it’s what we have to live with. We didn’t ask for it and neither did our families. Remember that as well. This is who we are, how we are and what we do. It’s in service to others but with a price.
Always remember the price of service. Remember the burden we place on others as we perform our duties. Remember the burden we impose on ourselves. Think about that same burden on your members and do your best to ease them. Teach them to survive as they serve.
It’s hard but worth it…. it has to be. DON’T pull that trigger. Talk to those around you about not doing the same. Stand strong ,depend upon as well as lean on others who understand you and teach them to do the same. Make an impact … Be afraid but push forward anyway. Make a difference or at least try to. Honor those who have sacrificed more and strive to achieve THEIR goals … they were obviously higher. Make your voice heard, live, love and care.
Stay SAFE and in House!