Fire Service Is a Historic Mirror for the Societal Condition

Does The Murder of a Fireman Present a New Low Point?

Firefighter ProcessionA firefighter was shot and killed. Is his life more important than a police officer, a journalist or a school child? No certainly not. But in the grand scheme of things, it seems another line has been crossed. The morals of society have sunk to yet another low.

Captain Dave Rosa of the Long Beach California fire department died doing what first responders do every day, respond with the intent of helping someone who needs help. Along with most all other things previously held in high regard, respect and consideration first responders are now fair game.

At this point, civility has generally been thrown onto the trash heap of history.

Dating back to the late 1600’s when the first paid “fire brigade” was formed, the personality of the fire service has mirrored that of society.

In 1716 concerned citizens in Philadelphia banded together and formed The Mutual Fire Society. Limited means of mass communication dictated that people identify with neighbors and only those with whom they were closely associated. When fire struck a member of the Mutual Fire Society, other members of the “club” rushed to help battle the blaze. Each society had approximately twenty members. The Mutual Fire Societies became social as well as protective associations, setting a pattern for volunteer firefighting groups, which would become the backbone of firefighting in America and would dominate it for a century and a half.

Because these “clubs” were organized and bonds were formed within the group, participants often became influential politically in their neighborhoods and small rural communities. Some became gang-like, but that was not different than the rough and tumble politics of early America. The movie “Gangs of New York” portrays how one such “fire brigade” became the neighborhood bullies.

As the structure of the fire service settled in and the journalists of the time began presenting firefighters as heroes (scroll down to “Johnson’s Brave Deed” ) the image of fire fighters as we know it today, became carved in stone. The fire departments and the church formed the central foundation of developing rural American towns and cities. The morals and values of the times were reflected in the values of the church and community organizations such as the fire departments.

As society’s personality evolved over the 30s, 40s, and 50s the fire service steadfastly anchored the mores of the time.

Lagging slightly behind society, the social experimentation of the 60s through the end of the century’s political correctness and diversity, infiltrated fire houses around the country. As volunteerism declines, volunteer departments are beginning to lose their community identities due to lack of participation and resulting consolidations. The community standards are being overwhelmed by a lose of community identify combined with a more insolated self-centered me first attitude.

From planned mass murders to bull horns screaming blind rages, civility has been corrupted to the point that previous taboo behaviors are becoming the norm. Without question, those who represent the fire service and the first responder attitude are the last bastion. The last bastion of society to be disrespected and the last anchor to civil behavior and positive values.

Your thoughts and comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Pete Adams
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