By Micheal DeStefano
Christmas season has come and gone and the New Year has begun; A new year full of hopes, dreams, and beliefs for a better life. During the Christmas season I, like many others, had the distinct pleasure of walking the aisles at many different stores in search of the perfect gifts for nieces, my children, even the family dog. I found something very interesting in my journey for toys to brighten the faces of those I love. To my surprise I found that every single store I visited had fire trucks on the shelves. Fire trucks that kids could ride, fire trucks with every cartoon character imaginable riding them, fire trucks that lit up and had realistic siren sounds, and everywhere I looked there were fire trucks.
Can you imagine, in 2017 there are still fire trucks that are selling out all over the place like they have been for decades. Fire trucks and the fire department is still popular with young children. Like it or not, kids look up to firefighters and what we do. Kids want to be us.
At your last fire station tour or public education event at the school, how many of those children had not just one, but easily one thousand questions (most in the way of a story) for the firefighters? Ask a kid what they did in school yesterday and you will get a blank stare making you wonder if the kid fell asleep, now ask them when the fire department came to their school and they will burst with excitement telling you ever small detail about the fire helmet that the Lieutenant let them wear.
I see it everyday as it becomes more and more popular, “Firefighters are not heroes!” It has become an almost selling point of some politicians to preach that running into burning buildings and helping those who cannot help themselves is not a heroic act, but rather just a firefighter doing their chosen job. Ask those kids if firefighters are heroes. I promise you that the reply will always be yes.
These same kids grow up and do one of two things, become a firefighter themselves or continue to hold a place in their heart for the fire department. The trust of firefighters that is instilled in the young innocent mind of a child carries on into adulthood. How many articles and studies have you seen about firefighters being the most trusted profession in the world? I can name dozens.
Now go on your favorite online search engine and type in firefighter scandal or firefighter arrested. You will see articles written by different local news agencies almost every day. Because we have such a high level of public trust every time there is a taboo act committed by a firefighter it is somewhat of an anomaly and therefor news worthy, and you better believe that the news will go to the end of the world to show that Billy Joe that earned himself a DUI was not just the fifth one arrested for the same act that night, but he is a firefighter!
Public perception is reality. This is a fact of life in our modern world of social media and instant news reporting from anyone with a cell phone camera. We have seen innocent men and women have their lives ruined by public perception despite legal decisions of innocence. Conversely, we have watched people that were guilty obtain minimal sentencing simply because of this same public perception and the influence that it provides. The more negative spotlights that are shining on the fire department and our members will slowly but surely sway the public perception from one of trust to one of disgust.
Every year we have a new crop of firefighters that enters into our ranks. A new group of wide-eyed kids that look to change the world by helping others. Some want to enter because they are passionate about the job, others because they like the schedule, and some just to be able to say they are a firefighter. Regardless of the reason the oath of a firefighter should not be taken lightly by any means. When you stand in the city council office, chief’s office, commission conference room with you right hand proudly presented in the air, you are taking part in a milestone that brothers and sisters have partaken in for centuries. You are promising that not only will you do your best to save lives and property, but also to uphold the morals and ethics that these very same past brothers and sisters fought so hard to protect.
I love this job. I believe that it is the best job in the world and that nothing compares to it. I believe so much in this job that I am willing to give my life in the performance of this job and not think for a second that it was a mistake or tragedy. When a firefighter makes the decision to commit a heinous act while representing this job, whether that act is on or off duty, they have insulted my beliefs as well as the beliefs of every other brother and sister that I serve next to. I am not a violent person by nature, however, if you intend to give my chosen profession or my department a black eye, I will gladly return the favor.
Michael DeStefano is a veteran of the fire service since 2004 and a Lieutenant with Brevard County (FL) Fire Rescue. He began his career at a small three-station paid department in Winter Springs, Florida, as a firefighter/EMT-B. In 2005, DeStefano moved to Brevard County, taking on the role of Firefighter/Paramedic in 2006. He has an Associate’s Degree in fire science from Eastern Florida State College, a Bachelor’s Degree, as well as Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Barry University..