Firefighters vs. Taxpayers…until we die

Exhibit A:

Contempt for firefighters…

Exhibit B:

Truth about firefighting…

By Michael Morse

We love this job and thank the good fortune that was bestowed upon us that we are firefighters.

And what‘s not to love? We eat like kings, occasionally get paid to sleep and watch TV, have a home away from home and form friendships like no other. It‘s as good a life as anybody could expect.

We proudly display our union stickers on our cars, and most of us have a few fire department T-shirts in our wardrobe. The public respects us, and we have earned it. We know this, and believe in ourselves for the most part, but nothing in our lives is absolutely perfect.

There is always the chance that something will happen that we have no control over. And it’s those fears that keep us up at night.

Every firefighter holds a few secrets that they typically keep to themselves.


Maintaining the illusion of an aloof but invincible know-it-all, can-do firefighter is work. Believe it or not, we do it not for ourselves, but for those who depend on us.

Firefighters are always on duty. There is no down time. The mind is never at rest. People depend on us to know what to do when they don‘t. There are a million things that could go wrong at any second, and firefighters are expected to perform. We keep this knowledge buried for the most part, but it is always there.


We have the aptitude for the job, but that’s not enough. It needs to be nurtured and constantly challenged. There is a word for what needs to be done to ensure competence: training.

And training never ends. It is as constant as breathing. When a skill is learned, it needs to re-learned at every available moment. There is always something new to perfect, and perfection is elusive. The training is the foundation that everything else depends upon. Having the skills to perform embedded in you through repetition helps when the real deal comes your way.


We border on arrogance, saunter through town like we own the place, respond to emergencies with a can-do” confidence and bask in the glow of public confidence. But in the middle of the night, when there is nobody but you and the thoughts that run through your mind, things are not so clear.

A million scenarios play out before you, and you question whether or not you have what it takes to respond. The what-if game knows no end.

  • What if the train that usually rolls through town unnoticed derails, and a toxic cloud of chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia escapes?
  • What if the baby that normally sleeps through the night is found not breathing at three in the morning?
  • What if a truck carrying scrap metal takes the Thurber‘s Avenue curve too quickly and rolls onto a car full of college kids, trapping them, cutting them to shreds, and all you can do is watch them bleed to death while the crane that will free them slowly creeps up Rt. 95?
  • What if the kid who decided to hang himself changed his mind at the last second, and you arrived a second too late?
  • What if the fire is too hot, and a family of five burns to death 3 feet from where you stand, charged hoseline in hand, unable to get even 1 inch closer, and the echo of their screams is all that is left of them when you finally force the door?

Failure is not an option. There is no “nice try” in firefighting. There is success and there is failure.

Success is what makes firefighting great. Failure is soul-crushing, confidence stealing, character-destroying misery — it’s the greatest unspoken fear that every firefighter carries with them.


Nobody wants to die. The myth that we will die so that others may live is just that, a myth. What we will do is take ridiculous chances at rescuing people — if, and only if, there is a chance we will come out alive. None of the firefighters who die in fires, collapses, accidents or explosions do so willingly. It is an insult to the integrity of life to think otherwise.

But die we do. Most often it isn‘t during a daring rescue, where images of a heroic firefighter are flashed across the screens of an adoring public. Most often we die alone, in bed, in agony, pain numbed by morphine, with a few people by our side, the ones that stayed with us during the struggle, when the lights are gone, and the cameras no longer roll.

We die from cancer. The things that burn emit toxins that we breathe in long after the fire is out.

  • The diesel fumes in the station that no system can capture.
  • The million and one chemicals that are created when a car catches fire.
  • The asbestos we breathe.
  • The dust that settles in our lungs and on our skin.


Going to work knowing that there is a very good chance something will happen that will eat away at your soul becomes business as usual. Mentally preparing yourself to face death, disfigurement, madness and disease becomes the norm, while working or not.

It eats away at your humanity, your compassion, and your ability to love freely and without guile. The feeling of impending doom will always be with you, consciously or subconsciously, it matters not; what does matter is how you handle it.

The toughest among us are actually not that tough at all, they are simply the healthiest. Those who joke about the dead and make small talk of the mentally unstable are those of us who suffer the most and disguise their hurt with bravado. The rest of us just cope, and get through each day the best we can.

Firefighting is more than a way to make a living. It‘s a way of life. But nothing in life is free.

Even those who are fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world know the price we pay, but for the benefit of those we love and those we protect and serve, we keep it to ourselves.

And it‘s killing us, slowly but surely.

…and they wonder why firefighters stick together.


  • Mike Scanlon says:

    I was a volunteer fire fighter EMTC for over 35 years. I have experienced the burnt, the maimed, the horriblely mangled. I have consoled the families, held the hand of the sick and dieing. I have assisted in six emergency child births. You never forget some.

    The average Joe thinks we just do it so that we can ride the big red trucks, have no idea what the truth is. Volunteers get ridcule by some “professionals” but we experience the same emotions, maybe on a smaller scale, but we still respond to help our neighbors.

    • Michael Morse says:

      Nobody better than volunteers as far as I’m concerned, this article definitely includes every one of us who understands. Thanks Mike.

  • Jim Vieira says:

    In my 42 years (carrer and volunteer) the worst two days of my career was when I had to do CPR on a 12 year old girl while her Grandmother was begging me to save her. Her grandmother knew my name since we lived across the street from each other and the young girls Dad was my Best Man at my wedding. The second was when I was the OIC when my co-worker was impaled by a chain link fence, I had just left him at the station an hour prior to his accident….. he passed away as a result of his injuries……. these are things the public doesnt see.

  • Fed up with the Brother/Victimhood says:

    Contempt for firefighters? Hardly. The Journal is doing their duty as a monitor of public funds, employees, and politicians. This bill, on the other hand, shows complete contempt for taxpayers!

    Go back, re-read your own firehouse recipe posts, and then come back and tell me it was “the job” that gives you heart disease. Wrong. Genetics and eating like you’re immortal gives you heart disease. How many firefighters claiming job-induced lung cancer are current or former smokers, many of whom left their air mask hanging by their side whenever possible? I’m supposed to pay for their stupidity?

    This bill is a completely transparent, one-way ticket to as many tax-free pensions as possible, as a direct response to the Raimondo’s actions regarding the pension system since being elected Treasurer. Nothing more. An effort led, no doubt, by that criminal punk Valletta. Shameless. Absolutely shameless.

    • Goose says:

      We share something in common Fed up with brother/victimhood. I am fed up with people like you who like to point to health statistics as if firefighters are the only ones who smoke, eat, have bad genetics and contracts their bad health results because they don’t tailor their life style to what you think it should be. Ignoring the other aspects of the job as explained in the article is easy when you have never experienced that part. firefighters have been putting up with whiners about the almighty tax dollar and it’s deficit as if they and they alone are responsible for it’s demise. The hazards to the firefighter’s job is real. The threat to your tax dollar is real also. The difference is that when your political leaders were spending these dollars foolishly and not being fiscally responsible, for example not fully funding the pension during so called pension holiday’s (taken by the politicians, not the workers) I( didn’t hear a peep from you. Now when you post I just read bla, bla bla

  • Mark Laprade says:

    Fed Up…I know plenty of firefighters who have lived otherwise clean/healthy lives who’ve been stricken by cancer….and uncommon cancers at young(ish) ages. Many studies show the risks are much higher. Doesn’t matter that you don’t believe it or don’t think you should have to pay for it…your anonymous moniker speaks volumes for you.

  • mark says:

    Don’t like what you see FedUp? Try doing the job yourself,…no? Then shut your spineless trap and pay your taxes like a good sheep.

  • Bright Idea says:

    What if cities get out of the fire prevention business altogether? How about private companies that contract with the municipality?

    • Michael Morse says:

      The fire service is a vital part of our infrastructure, right along with the military and police. We are government entities, not private industry.

  • Brian says:

    Fed Up- There is more ways to acquire cardiac issues than not having your face piece on after the fire is knocked, like a career of 0 to 100 for calls
    , that’s going from resting to full on workout heart rate. Another is being exposed to smoke via contact with skin.Yes, we wear Full ensemble gear to minimize this, but ask any firefighter, after a smell the smoke for sometimes 3 or 4 showers down the road. We’ve been taught to wash ourselves and gear after every fire, but the smell is still there on our body a few showers later. The exposure to products burning in a building is a plastic hydrocarbon before you criticize what you know nothing of..educate yourself on those two issues..plenty of studies to read on those two issues alone..then come back and apologize for disrespecting good, hardworking people who care for others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *