In the aftermath of the terrible disaster in Worcester I heard the same word used over and over, Brotherhood. Newscasters, interviewers and reporters frequently used this word to describe why so many firefighters from all over the world had traveled to Worcester. All these journalists did their best to describe what that brotherhood means to a firefighters But they all fell short of capturing what that special bond is that makes firefighting a brotherhood. Al Whitehead probably said it best when he said, " if you don't do the job you will never know what it is." I have long since stopped trying to explain to people what its like being a firefighters I used to try to explain it but people just can't understand it. You can't blame them either. They all have visions of handsome television actors dashing through the flames to carry out a beautiful child just in the nick of time. I had an interesting experience that taught me just how difficult it is for people to understand what we do. I was a new firefighter in the early seventies. I would come home after every shift and tell my wife all about the fires we had. She would patiently listen as I droned on about the smoke and heat encountered as we stretched a line or searched a room. This went on for several months.
Then one evening as we were enjoying supper I heard an engine turn the comer of our street. It growled as the driver downshifted into first gear to climb the steep hill. I thought it was just a trash fire until a second pump made the same growling sound as it began to climb the hill. I went out onto the stoop and I could see the black smoke rolling across the street. Ladder One was now climbing the hill. I called to my wife and we both went up the street.
It was a three family home, as most in this neighborhood were. The fire was on the third floor. I stood in the street with my wife, looking up at the building. A line had been stretched up the front stairwell, the stick was coming out of the bed headed for the roof and a supply line was being hooked in. Suddenly the breaking of glass drew our attention to the alley. A window on the second floor was being taken out by a firefighter who was operating there. I recognized the man as the Lieutenant from the first due pump. Black smoke belched out over his head as he leaned out over the sill trying to get a breath of fresh air. His stomach retched as he began to vomit down the outside of the building. My wife exclaimed, "that's ridiculous" I asked, "what's ridiculous"? She pointed at the Lieutenant and said, "that 's ridiculous." I asked what she meant. She answered matter of factly" if he was sick why did he go to work"?
Here was the closest person in the world to me, the person I share my inner most thoughts with.
If I couldn't make her understand what its like. I will never be able to explain it to anyone.
But a firefighter understands.
No matter what country, city or town, he or she is from. They share the secret to this bond and they understand what is meant by the word Brotherhood. For only they know what it feels like to crawl down a black hallway with searing heat pushing you to the floor. Only they know how exhilarating it is to hear a truck company as it begins to open up while you lay on that hallway floor. Only they know the thoughts that flood through your mind as you grope your way, in zero visibility, through a mountain of clutter, doing a primary search for victims that you pray have already escaped the building. And only they can understand the fatigue that comes when you are half way through your third air bottle and are still pushing a hand line in the building. It's not the patches, or the badges or the shinny apparatus that bonds us as brothers.
It's knowing what it's like to work inside. That 's what bonds firefighters as brothers and that
bond is as strong today as it was in the days gone by.