“My fundamental duty is to serve humanity…”
We all stood. “All rise and raise your right hand”..The clatter of the old wooden auditorium seats clapped and banged as the entire academy stood as one. “Repeat after me..”, said the Chief officer in attendance. The thunder of male voices rang through the auditorium. Our families sat behind us, listening proudly. We were now sworn to our duty. That was back in 1991. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
“I do solemnly swear….”
I still remember the feeling of the badge being pinned on my Class B shirt. I was now, officially at least, in the eyes of the County of Orange, a fireman. Man, ..I did not have any clue what I was committing to. What a nube…I understood the words and how serious it was, I didn’t understand the cost. Nor did I understand at the time, what it meant to commit to such a thing. In my mind, I was still a Marine, and this was just a job to fill the void in my life after leaving the Corps. But within a year, on an April night in L.A., I experienced first hand what it meant. The King Riots taught me a thing or two, the riots took me from being a firefighter, and led me down the path of parallel lines to being a fireman.
“…preserve life and property from the elements of fire and disaster..”
Chief Croker, much quoted with his famous words about his, “one ambition” also stated, a little less famously that a fireman’s great act of bravery was taking his oath. That after this had been done, all else was his duty. This quote has paled in popularity with all of the 9/11 hoorahing that has gone on for years. In essence, it states truth. You hear older firemen say it often, “I was just doing my job”. Not so exciting, but truly humble and fitting of the public servant.
“I serve the people…”
In this day and age of self glorification on Facebook and YouTube, the idea that a public servant maintain a humble attitude and do his or her duty regardless of cost, is not so exciting. It is far more thrilling and “Like” producing to grandly display our bravery and feel the rush of pride as all our one thousand “friends” comment on how brave we all are and how proud they all are of our performance and selfless dedication.
Did you take an oath for your badge? Were you sworn to your duty as a firefighter?
I hope you were. Personally, I still believe that an oath is worth taking. For we do hold an office, appointed by an authority. Even though much of the time it may seem to be just another job, it carries with it as we are all well aware, the same inherent hazards that confront the police and the military. The idea that you may need to give your life in service of the public trust. That you may be called upon to suffer in the performance of that trust. You may be called upon to go beyond the normal bounds of your duties in keeping that trust. Therefore, it has long been regarded as an “oath” worthy position. It might be valid to add here that to “suffer” in the performance of duty is not limited to death. “Laying down your life” can take many forms.
But in recent times, as with all things of deep, but slightly intangible meaning, the value placed on taking an oath for your badge has slipped by the way. Like that of wearing a uniform shirt, ..for crying out loud, you could get a work injury having to button all those buttons.
I’ve taken two oaths in my life. One to uphold the Constitution, as a United States Marine. The second was to uphold the Constitution and to serve the public, of which I am just as proud, was my oath as a fireman. Both acts reflect the very essence of the life I have long committed myself and my family to. A life of service to the public and my country. But before I get too puffed up, I have to be realistic, there have been many times when I have lost sight of those words I pledged. I am no angelic being. I am not a perfect man. Having taken the oath, I am held accountable to my conscience. And that is the point of it.
What is an oath? My old copy of Webster’s Collegiate states that it is “a ritualistic declaration, typically based on an appeal to God or a god, (I personally only believe in one) or to some revered person or object, that one will speak the truth, keep a promise, remain faithful etc.” Essentially, the act of swearing to keep your word, by taking action to do what you said you would do. That seems relatively straight forward, especially given the fact that we are often paid to do what we said we would do. I find it ironic that in an age where truth is considered relative to your personal interpenetration, that the act of taking an oath is considered relatively passe or naive. Even inconvenient. But there is a great deal of accountability in an oath taken and although this might be an age of relative truth, you Jake, will be held to a higher standard when the chips are cashed in and there really won’t be any relativity involved. With all of the pathetically poor examples of integrity before us, from our societies leadership specifically, it is very hard at times to articulate why that oath is so important.
This harkens back to the parallel lines I wrote about last time. The third line of Character. Character in the way we perform our duty. WE have a duty, …clear to see. It is to be ready, at all times to serve the public and if as an officer, to serve those who serve the public. It is to always pursue excellence, so that we may serve them better. It is to pass this knowledge on to those coming behind us. It is to serve them all our days, even when they turn their backs on us. In carrying out your duties, you may pay a stiff price, brother and sister. You may pay a stiff price. So may you always feel that badge, poking your chest. May it remind you of what you swore to do, even when you haven’t had a good run in a long while, the chief and the mayor are acting like mutts and you hate the guy who commented on the newspaper article about lazy firefighters who don’t earn their pay.
“My duty is to the people”..
Lt. Rich Nappi, Engine 237, FDNY paid the ultimate sacrifice two years ago, April 16th 2012. I dedicate this little note to his memory. He and I didn’t know each other real well, but well enough to clink a glass, he’d yank my mustache, I’d cuss him under my breath. He kinda brought out my hostile side. But I learned a thing or two from that little big man. As the F.O.O.L.S. official “Minister of Tact and Decorum” he taught me to toughen my armor East Coast style, widened my perspective, and when I realized he walked out of the WTC alive, I gave him a wide berth. But Rich was also known by those who worked and served with him as devoted to the Brotherhood in a way that puts many of us to shame. Rich was all in. He was all Leatherhead, and they loved him.
Honor all of those who have taken their oath, their moment, that one act of bravery. Everything else was their duty. Goodnight, Nappi. Sleep well.
Leather Forever! —109