Warrior Poets

Here we sit at the kitchen table. I enjoy the table in the back lot too, but there’s no C’gars allowed these days. Can’t say as I like it, but can’t argue much with it either. So its hot Joe, n’ we’ll make do. Had a heck of a time, this past several weeks. Been mullin’ and cogitatin’ on it all and I’ve come to the conclusion its best to write it out. That seems to work for me. So pull up a chair…

Wherever you find stacked leather helmets, …there you will find warrior poets..

A few years back, I was attending the Leatherhead’s Convention in Seattle, a laudatory event I might add. A gathering of FOOLS and it was there I first encountered the auditory power of an ole’ brawler named Bobby Halton. He gave keynote that rocked the house that night, calling upon the Leatherheads to be the Warrior Poets of the fire service, to fight to preserve heritage and tradition within the American Fire Service. To hold the line! To remember those who had gone before and tell their stories, to do honor and homage to the past and not trash it, under the force of political correctness.

Well, you could say I got all fired up. Who wouldn’t? Surely you have heard the Chief speak at one point or another. If not, I’m sure you will seek out an opportunity. The man is a master! Needless to say, I took it to heart and as I continued to write about the things that spur my passion, someone took to calling me the “Warrior Poet” in concert with that speech of Bobby’s. It persisted, so I took to it.  I still take to it, …

Now I wasn’t alone in the audience that night.  There were many warrior poets there.

Not everyone can write, but like the original “Warrior Poets”, we can tell our history to the young ones, give them the passion of our cause.  Our cause, …our people.  The American Public, the ones we serve, the ones we protect.  And in this time of economic hardship and shriveled paychecks, vanishing pensions and browned out fire houses, it is that much more important that we continue to be the Warrior Poets Bobby called us to be.

“Leather helmets are heavy, but they are also a mark of pride in heritage”. Detail from collection of Arthur “WeeGee” Fellig. Used with permission.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you who we are, you all know.  We are the legacy of two hundred plus years of Iron Firemen.   I use the word Firemen.  Those who know me, who follow me, know I admire them and I love them as my own, regardless of their gender or color.  And it is these that we must teach of the past.  Teach them their legacy of fortitude, suffering with honor and endurance in times that are hard, our legacy of iron constitution and work ethic second to none, a legacy of pride and tradition, which when properly applied demonstrates to the people we serve that we are not common men and women, but are made of leather and sinew, …strong to the core.  Our pride in our country is our creed, our integrity is our shield, love of God is our light through the smoke, love of our brothers and sisters our passion, down the dark and terrifying hallway.  We hold our lives precious, our families paying dearly, so that we may serve the public through the long night.  These are the things we must teach them.

We should not seek to dance in beer halls half naked in our bunker pants like some in the news lately, not to flex our muscles on calendar glossies, not to wear “I fight what you fear” shirts or worse yet, that we terrorize our recruits in the firehouse with pranks that defy common sense in this modern age, or paint our elected official’s faces on bathroom stalls…need I go on?  Where is the honor and integrity in these acts?  Such behavior reflects the depth of depravity our society plunges to.  Such actions reflect the part of society that places itself first and glorifies its ugliness, revels in its depravity.  We are to be above that.  We are to be better than that. Self worship and depravity should not be our legacy.  The world will see these things through the rampant social media that records all.  Our politicians, our city managers, those who set the budget will remember.  Yes there are those who cheer on such behavior and encourage us to “live it up!”  we have earned it, ..so they say.  But these sorry souls know little of what awaits us if we lose our way.  Will those who cheer us on when we are out of control be the same ones to defend us when we have lost our jobs?  Will they speak up when the local or national press are crucifying us on the front page?  In times of social discord, in times of moral disintegration, it is the public servant, among a few others, who will be the ones to hold the fabric of society together.  In order for that to be, we have to protect our reputation jealously, and with tenacity.  Our standard must be worth attaining, our honor untarnished, our integrity infallible.  There is a reason a firefighter can walk untouched among the most vile members of society.  But that doesn’t mean we should become like them.  Forgetting our place in society would be fatal to our profession.  Society as a whole will grow bored with hero worship.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we are in a different age, a different time. Acceptable social behavior has changed and the general public is far more accepting that in the past.  Maybe a time will come when firefighters are no longer expected to be a cut above.  A day when no one will care who we once were and what we meant to our people.  I don’t want to see or be a party to that day. If we, as public servants, are free to be like everyone else, free to exercise ALL our God given liberties, then we are NOT SERVANTS at all..We will then just be employees, taking from the public coffers..I don’t want a legacy like that.  I will not be such a man.

The public does need  us, but if they are to pay for us, they will expect more of us as human beings than is sometimes reasonable, they will hold us to a higher standard than they will hold themselves.  I’m okay with that, I took an oath for my badge.  I have many friends and brothers whose desire to celebrate life takes them deep into the night on wild rides, feeling as if tomorrow may take another beloved brother, their passion says, “Today we are alive, tomorrow one of us may die!”  The general public is very understanding and tolerant of off duty firefighters, a little in their cups…But there is a difference between that and the behavior that I am referring to.  We are members of an elite calling, the passion of service.  We cannot be common men, “for common men go nowhere”, as Coach Brooks said to the U.S. hockey team in 1980.

“We must help them navigate these troubled waters they are about to inherit, teach them to lead, teach them to endure, teach them to put themselves aside for each other” Photo by author.

If we hope our young firemen and firewomen will carry this legacy forward, we must first set the pace, and be living examples of what it is we profess to believe or they will not know what it is we value.  They are not so different, this new generation.  But they do not take our word blindly.  They expect us to live what we preach, they call a spade a spade.  So it must be.  We must tell them of the iron men who brought our profession to the hallowed ground.  We must help them navigate these troubled waters they are about to inherit, teach them to lead, teach them to endure, teach them to put themselves aside for each other and teach them to feel compassion for a fickle public, that one minute will praise us, then the next cut our wages down.  We must teach them humility, and accepting praise with honor, not for self-benefit and glory.  I’m not advocating that we be pure as the driven snow, not that we be like priests.  But that in times of social upheaval, it is our character that will tell.  Our elan, our heritage.  If we are not who we say we are, we will no longer be able to make a difference.

My father taught me the code of an upright man, gave me my heritage, and gave me my name.  The Marines taught me their code of conduct, their heritage and gave me their name.  Chief Croker, Chief Halton,  and many like them have done the same for us from the days when we were young in the public service.  And if we are who we say we are, we will do the same for our young ones in the firehouses, and lead them in the way of the American Firemen; men and women of character, integrity, honor, courage, judgement and fortitude.  Put action to your words..

Hangin’ with the original fire service “Warrior Poet” himself! Thanks for leading us, Chief! FOOLS Convention 2012 in Fairbanks Alaska

Yep,…that was a good cup..


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