Many of you have followed the challenges currently faced by the Detroit Fire Department. For a first hand look about the how the city of Detroit is seen by it’s firefighters, take a few minutes and watch the preview of the documentary BURN.
BURN Trailer (2009, Original) from BURN on Vimeo.
It’s one thing to watch these videos, it’s another thing to actually walk a day in their boots. I had this incredible opportunity last week when I was given the second opportunity in four months to ride with the Detroit Fire Department. The more firefighters I meet, the more I realize how similar we all are. It seems like every station has the same guys, just different faces. This was no different in Detroit except for one thing; attitude. Life is not about what happens to us, it’s how you react to it. It seems like no matter how many lemons these men are faced with they always manage to turn them in to lemonade. My personal department and I’m sure many others around this country, could learn quite a bit from the DFD about the power of positive attitude.
In between runs, on my visit a few months ago, one of the men showed me a very cool t-shirt they had designed. I could not resist seeing if they would let us make a Foxfire illuminating version of the shirt. Last week on my 24 hour ride-a-long I had the opportunity to present the shirts to the men of the “Big House.” They could not have been more excited. Next time you are in the Detroit area and see glowing green eyes looking at you through the dark you can relax knowing that it is not a possessed pit bull but rather one of the guys from the DFD !
Detroit was once was once one of the crown jewels of our country and the epitome of the second industrial revolution. Looking out of the back of the fire truck, the sights reminded me more of Beruit than a major US city. I can understand the poverty, the amount of vacant buildings and crime in these neighborhoods but what I can’t understand how the city's politicians could possibly neglect our brother Detroit firefighters. We have all seen politicians turn their backs on firefighters all over the country but what is happening in Detroit is unconscionable. Their gear, tools and trucks are in such a state of disrepair that I couldn’t believe my eyes.
This treatment from the politicians was best summarized by a cartoon hanging on a bulletin board in their quarters. I couldn't resist take a picture.
To add insult to injury, they recently laid off and demoted several firefighters that I have met over the last few months. Regardless of these hardships, the DFD has one thing that the city can’t take away from them; attitude. The gear, trucks, and tools didn’t seem to bother these men as they charged into burning buildings and put wet stuff on the red stuff faster and more efficiently than few other departments around. I had a first hand view of them in action as they let me join their crew over 24 hours. I saw more fire and action in those 24 hours than most department typically sees in a few months. These men didn't seem to let ANY of their hardships get in the way of them providing outstanding service to their community.
I shared some pictures of my 24 hours with these valiant warriors on Facebook and was impressed by how quickly the posts racked up. Mike McCarthy of the Black Hat Radio show saw some my posts and wanted to share the story of how incredible these role models are to all of us in the fire service. Mike was so moved to hear about my experiences that he actually did a live interview with both me and my sponsor Sgt. John Edwards.
Black Hat Radio Podomatic
Black Hat Radio -Facebook
Another reply was from Troy Mutch, one of Foxfire’s most trusted and best distributors. Troy works for Commercial Solution-First Responders in Edmonton, Canada. Edmonton’s economy has been booming over the years thanks to the Alberta oil sands and their firefighters have the best of the best when it comes to equipment. Commercial Solutions has certainly reaped the benefits of the generous budgets of the Canadian fire service. Troy is a firefighter above all else and he wanted to help his brothers in need, even if they were thousands of miles away and in another country. Troy could not believe that firefighters actually fought fire in this condition of gear.
Commercial Solutions-First Responders
Commercial Solutions- First Responders Facebook
When Troy saw a few of my posts about my ride along, he did what a true brother should do. He not only helped, he did something that left all of us both speechless and awestruck. Troy spoke with the men of Squad 5 and is donating 15+ pairs of brand new Black Diamond boots and personal bail out kits. Even though he lives in another country, the bonds of brotherhood inspired him so much that he could not turn his back on his firefighters in need. After hearing about this generous donation, one of the firefighters pulled me aside and with tears in his eyes and talked about how much they appreciated this very generous gesture. He stated that he dreads putting his old rubber boots on because they are always wet due to cracks and excessive wear. His boots have caused him continual foot problems as a result. I can’t wait to hear how he feels after trying out his new Black Diamonds. Troy is definitely his brother's keeper.
As I drove home to Cincinnati the next morning, I thought about how much I learned from this trip. I learned that brotherhood is blind when it comes to race, distance and nationality. I learned that it doesn’t matter how hard you get hit, it’s how fast you get back up. Detroit has taken a few body blows but the shoulders of the Detroit Fire Department are more than strong enough to keep their beloved city from falling down.
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.