Some of the most satisfying moments that I experienced while a member of the Providence (R.I.) Fire Department were the times that I spent connecting with kids on calls.
Seeing their eyes light up when we arrived on scene, witnessing their fear transform to trust as the call progressed, holding them, carrying them and saving them are unforgettable moments that I hadn‘t expected when I began my career. As much as I enjoyed the interaction with the kids, it became clear that I had a responsibility to them as well.
Firefighters and EMS personnel have a unique opportunity to positively impact kids who need somebody to trust, emulate and believe in. To the kids, we are larger-than-life heroes who show up with a can-do attitude, treat people nice, get the job done and ride off into the sunset.
They need people like us. They need to know that people exist who are ready, willing and able to come to their aid with no questions, judgment or power trip.
Both boys and girls benefit from having role models in their lives. I think boys especially benefit from what the fire/EMS professional stands for. Their entire lives they have been taught to “man-up.” Little boys are taught that big boys don‘t cry, big boys don‘t tell, big boys don‘t show emotion and big boys take care of themselves.
As they grow older, the messages about manhood start coming from the media. They are shown that real men don‘t take any crap, don‘t back down from a fight, still don‘t show emotion and never, ever cry.
Teenage boys have it the worst; every male role model is a power mad, egotistical, womanizing, sex-crazed, fun-loving guy with a gun and a bag of ammo, ready to make some money, score some bitches and take no prisoners.
It gets worse in college, where sensitivity is considered weakness, hooking up with as many females as possible is perceived as manly, drinking themselves into a stupor is part of growing up and still, no emotion please.
Video games portray the male as a powerful, stern, take-charge guy with a three-day growth, more guns than some police departments, women on each arm and pockets full of money. Music lyrics glorify the man who runs the show, deals the most drugs, kills the most cops and thugs and lives in the best crib.
Movies aimed at the 15- to 25-year-old demographic portray the action hero as the ideal man, using violence as the best means of persuasion. Their superheroes, without fail, have a weapon used to dominate, instill fear and kill. Even most real-life heroes use force and intimidation as their go-to means of controlling their environment.
The military‘s primary function, cleverly disguised as keeping the peace, is to control their surroundings with the best weapons money can buy. The police need to assert themselves with nearly every interaction they have with the public. They are armed, and they have the power to put people in jail and put people down when they don‘t cooperate.
Firefighters and EMS personnel are a different breed. We have no desire to control people. We help them. Sometimes we need to control them, and occasionally we need to get assertive, but using force is a last resort.
Our courage is on display in a different way. We face things that horrify the untrained civilian with little more than pressurized water, an ax and a pole, an SCBA tank on our backs and our smarts.
We enter their homes when an adult is sick and act like guests who know how to make people better. Our weapons are medications, supplemental oxygen, stretchers and blankets. When they are so sick or injured that the adults in their lives can‘t fix them we show up, treat them nice, carry them into our trucks and take them to the hospital, where more nice people wait.
Most important, though, is our ability to express emotion. The bond that connects humanity has never been made of explosives.
Pure kindness, the kind that cannot be faked, is an integral part of any decent firefighter/EMT‘s toolkit. The ability and willingness to laugh when things are funny, or shed a tear when things go badly and simply be there with no weapons, no attitude, and no thirst for power and glory is our greatest asset.
The more we use those traits, the better the world we protect becomes. At the end of the day, we can‘t ask for more than that.