There is no city in the US that has been hit harder over the last decade than Detroit, just don’t let the brave men and women of the Detroit Fire Department find that out. Why ? Because for them it’s just business as usual fighting fires, saving lives and serving the residents of this iconic city. The decline of the domestic auto-manufacturing industry and it’s crippling effect on their local economy was very apparent as I drove past the blocks of vacant homes and commercial structures on my way to Detroit Fire Department Station 40 on Dexter Ave.
They have not let the reduced budgets, declining economy, and politics get in the way of them providing a level of professionalism that all fire departments could learn from. They know it’s not about how hard you get hit, it’s about your ability to take the punch and how fast you can bounce back. The exceptional men and women of the Detroit Fire Department are warriors, they have a job to do and no challenge will stand between them and their mission to serve their residents.
Over the 24 hours, I had the chance to not just visit the brave warriors of DFD but they also let me break bread, fight fire, and spend the night with all of them at their station. Brotherhood, compassion, focus, and love of their job were on full display.
Like many of you, I first learned about the challenges of the Detroit FD from both the news and the soon to be released movie BURN. Please take time to watch the trailer below and donate to the www.detroitfirefilm.org.
I was hosted by Sgt. John Edwards of Squad 5 on this recent trip. I first met Sgt. Edwards at FDIC a few weeks ago. He invited me to spend a day with his crew and that was an offer I could not refuse.
At morning line up, I was introduced to the men of the station and the OIC, Lt. Ziggler (Ziggy, as his guys call him). He started the roll call off with his own unique motivating words about the importance of doing their job and having fun.
We all learned at a young age to never judge a book by its cover. Sometimes, I find myself not following this rule. I was issued my gear and got my side of the truck ready. The men of Detroit have battle-worn gear, old trucks with virtually no “bells and whistles” but they have something much more important; brotherhood, professionalism, and pride. This was on full display when we caught our first structure fire of the day. Within a few minutes of dispatch we traveled several miles in traffic, stretched lines, vented a wall and made a knock on the fire. What was even more impressive was that in less then 15 minutes all four units were back in service. I have never seen a faster, more perfect aggressive attack, overhaul, and return to service . What was even more special to me personally was seeing the excitement of the men as their Foxfire tools and helmet bands illuminated the interior of the house helping them with accountability of each other and their tools.
As we were getting back on our rig, I was introduced to a senior Captain who pulled me aside and said “Don’t let our old gear and trucks fool you, our boys know how to work!” He could not be more spot on. On our ride back to quarters, I thought of our regional departments and how we have state of the art technology, glitzy trucks, and top of the line gear. Regardless, many firefighters I know and even myself sometimes, complain when our gear is not in like-new condition or our trucks don’t function perfectly. We get too wrapped up with our gear and apparatus and forget about the most important item in the fire-service; the firefighter.
I learn something new every time I visit a fire station or other firefighters but this visit was different. This visit taught me one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned as both a firefighter a human. Greatness cannot be measured by tangibles like money, gear, or status. Greatness should be measured by doing your best with what you have.