I just spent about an hour on the phone with a good friend. The conversation began with talk of a recent trip he took with his wife, my trip to Texas, and various “catching up” chatter. While important, as it had been some time since we last talked, it really just served as the warm up and foundation for the real reason for the call.
I can’t say my friend and I go way back, but over the relatively short time we have known each other a deep respect and good conversation has led to a dependable and honest point of reference for both of us. We are at very different places; geographically, professionally and personally however these differences are much the reason why our perspectives are so appreciated by one another.
As the conversation continued we began to get into the heart of the matter, the how we are really doing beyond our superficial day to day routines. I shared my struggles, and he his frustrations. Those in our community understand how this goes. Our intense and passionate personalities can beat ourselves unrelentingly for our short comings or twist the complete lack of effort and interest of our coworkers into despise, introspection and projection at a high degree.
As expected, and now depended, our two different places brought each other back to balance. The lamenting and venting subsided and we approached a close with the seemingly natural path of progression; a sort of “where I want to be” this only reopened the discussion.
My friend told me that at one point he really wanted to “be somebody”. He said that he was glad had out grown that, because now he has realized he would just be happy to be considered a “great fireman” someday.
I know what he means; as appropriately humble individuals all we really want is the respect of our peers, but because I trust him, believe in him and I am comfortable being honest with him I challenged this definition a bit, and he did too.
- He was a “great fireman”, he put in 30 years, always did what was asked, kept his mouth shut and never needed to promote.
- He was a “great fireman”, not a fire cracker in the station but he worked like a mule on the fire scene. “One time he took out every window on the second floor of this fire with a ladder right before it lit off, it was awesome”
- He was a “great fireman”, kept the rig and the station in pristine condition and was an excellent cook.
- He was a “great fireman” he could fix anything, dishwasher, lawn mower, snow plow, in fact he even came over to my house one day and got my truck running in 5 minutes after I had been working on it for hours.
The funny thing about these makings of a great fireman; from complete conformist, to completely dangerous and possibly even completely unrelated is what the other side of the spectrum is for our coworkers?
- That guy is such a tool, he even has his own halligan
- That guy is such a nerd he sits at the computer and watches YouTube videos of some laboratory fire experiments. “Have you never been called to a fire in a laboratory?”
- That guy is a pain in the ass! He needs to give it a rest already, it isn’t that complicated. “I have never been to a fire that didn’t go out.”
- That guy keeps wanting to change everything. “He has no respect for the way we have always done it”
While all this is all cliche, the point is that what makes a “great fireman” is subjective. What I consider being a “great fireman”, may just ensure that I am remembered as the “pain in the ass nerd with his own tool that wants to change everything.”
We cannot know what others consider to be a great fireman and we should not work to be a great fireman for others. If we want to be remembered as a “great fireman” we need to know what that means to us and those we respect, then we must live. Only then can we look back at the end of a career or that point where the life flashes before our eyes and take in that one second of pride we will allow ourselves to believe that we were a great fireman.
By the time we had hashed out the various perceptions of greatness, the mood was once again light and we realized it was late. The conversation came to a somewhat quick close with a “be good brother, I will talk to you soon”
What was missing from that closing is the respect for our duty and the understanding of the modern world. I might shoot him a text, email or like a Face Book post but I may not actually speak with him a soon as I should. As I sit here on duty tonight and him heading into shift tomorrow there is always the chance that our service calls upon us to give all and we never have the opportunity to talk again as was the case in Boston last week.
While it may be strange, as we have never actually worked a rig together and only known each other for a couple years I will call him tomorrow morning and tell him I think he is a great fireman. He will more than likely be very confused by this and harass me appropriately as any great fireman should, but that is not the point. What I believe is a great fireman may not match his view, but I know what he meant with his first statement and I want him to know before his last day on the job or on this earth that he has my respect today and he can rest assured that he will not have to wait “to be considered a great fireman someday”.