Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brother/Sisterhood: Illusion or Elusive?

Author’s Note: This article was published in April at FirefighterNation. I believe it complements Jason’s piece on FireRescue1.

First of all, I am not going to the dictionary to define “brother/sisterhood.

For one thing, it would not adequately capture the essence of the deep feelings for what is the core of brother/sisterhood as it applies to the fire service and I believe that, as a nation of firefighters, we are still defining it.

For over a quarter of a century, I have been studying what exactly it means to be in the brother/sisterhood.

Dylan Thomas, the renowned Welsh poet, wrote an amusing piece about brotherhood. He stated that he built a snowman, his brother knocked it down, he knocked his brother down and then they had tea! A simple but workable description of brotherhood, but I believe that it goes deeper.

Does brother/sisterhood only exist in the fire service? If not, then why don’t we hear doctors, nurses, teachers, business executives, politicians or electricians talk about their professions in such terms?

Wait; there IS the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), but is our brother/sisterhood on the same plane as the electricians?

One only has to look at the funerals to know that they are NOT the same.

Yes; the funerals! When we see the videos and photos of the apparatus, the flags, honor guards, the sea of dress uniforms and the bagpipers, it is this congress of comrades that is the epitome of what is the brother/sisterhood. As we struggle to bury one of our own, we are one and the same.
And it would seem that we gather our strength from this very emotional moment in our lives and take it to heart and make it a part of our every day lives.

People who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon will often ask why so many of us come from all over the country to say good-bye to a fallen brother/sister that we didn’t even know.

Our answer? Because THAT’S the brother/sisterhood!

How is it, then, that we don’t hear the same pronouncement when a brother/sister “knocks down the snowman”, so to speak? Are we picking and choosing when we invoke it?

Granted; a firefighter funeral and a malicious act committed by a firefighter are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum-that is quite obvious. In fact; some would argue that the two examples don’t even belong in the same sentence, but when we talk of brother/sisterhood, is it humanly possible to feel our compassion for someone who has committed a malicious and selfish act and not a selfless act?

In our country, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but in the case of a public servant; once the headline is plastered all over the news outlets, we are guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

Our outpouring from the brother/sisterhood will be split between those who believe that we should remain silent until we know all of the facts and those who feel compelled to state their opinion based upon what we know at the moment.

Often, “brother/sisterhood” will be invoked like the hard swing of a hammer in an effort to suppress discussion. It is said with an air of indignant exclamation. Is it because the brother/sisterhood only wants to recognize and acknowledge whatever produces a positive image? Some might think so.

I have heard, How can you judge a brother/sister when you don’t know all the facts? Some brother/sisterhood!

When the discussions fire up, it is often triggered by a news report. Firefighters weigh in and many will preface their remarks with “if”, “alleged” or “in giving them the benefit of the doubt”. I do it in that manner, because we ARE innocent until proven guilty, I am giving the brother/sister the benefit of the doubt and in the end, I am showing respect for the brother/sisterhood.

But others will reply in a tone and manner that has the brother/sister as already guilty. However; they are also entitled to their opinion, however misguided or premature, because they are of the brother/sisterhood.

The brother/sisterhood of the nation’s fire service is not a nation of lemmings. We do not have one leader leading us all in the same direction with the same principles and goals. Many cultures diverge into one, common cause that calls for us to act, but we don’t all take the same path and we don’t all get the same results.

There are departments that are better than others; no question about it, but does “better” define who is and who isn’t in the brother/sisterhood? If the under-manned and under-funded departments are moving forward in the face of adversity to provide their services, guided by the principles in our call to duty, are they any less worthy?

Is the brother/sister who gets straight A’s in school kept in the family and the one who struggles to barely pass kicked out or as a family-as a brother/sisterhood-do we work with and help the ones who struggle so that they can become stronger, which will build a stronger brother/sisterhood? I would like to think so.

So; what defines our brother/sisterhood?

Edwin Markham wrote: There is a destiny that makes us brothers: None goes his way alone: All that we send into the lives of others Comes back onto our own.

Is it our willingness to help our friends, neighbors and total strangers?

Is it the way that we think?

Is it the way that we dress?

Is it strengthening our bodies and battle plans or letting complacency weaken our purpose and preparedness?

Is it what we agree on or is it that we can bridge the differences?

Is it the good and the bad, but accepting neither as the best that we can do?

Is it trusting your life to someone else or trusting your judgment that you can?

Is it treating everyone with some respect until it becomes clear that they deserve more or less or NONE?

Is it basing our conclusions on the here and now without regard for our history and traditions?

Is it searching for a redeeming quality or a reason to give up?

Is it an excuse or a mandate to fix a problem?

Is it overcoming the black eyes caused by lapses in judgment or living with the scars, both physical and emotional, in a society that fixates on perfection?

When we make our decisions, both personal and professional, it must be done with our family of brothers and sisters in mind. When it is not, then we have turned our backs on the brother/sisterhood and have consciously or unconsciously “left” the brother/sisterhood. That separation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the brother/sisterhood and to respect our predecessors’ founding principles.

Regardless, the brother/sisterhood moves forward with the strength of the battle-tested veterans and the promise of a bright future from the new ones.

And the brother/sisterhood will not only survive, but will evolve even further.

Michael Joseph Barry wrote: But whether on the scaffold high or in the battle’s van, the fittest place where Man can die is where he dies for Man.

Defining the brother/sisterhood in a sentence, sound byte or even a single act will remain elusive, but we know that it’s real and that it isn’t an illusion.

I want to thank everyone who reads my meanderings and I hope that I have given you something to think about on this, my 100th article for FirefighterNation.


The article as submitted is published under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and is the intellectual property of Art Goodrich a.k.a. and ChiefReason. It is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-printed in any form without expressed permission from the author. You may read other works by the author at

First Published 4/10/09
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