It’s Not a Job, It’s Not a Career…It’s a Calling

By: David Harms

Members of the American Fire Service should consider themselves blessed to be alive and to have the opportunity to show up to work and serve their citizens. Without a doubt in my mind, this is an absolute honor. It’s not concerning whether you’re a volunteer, a part-time back stepper or a career member sitting in the front two or all four seats; as the importance of the job is all the same in my eyes.

Did I just call it a job? I’ll go into more depth on that in just a bit, but first I’d like to share with you who I’ve climbed for on 9/11 in my career. For those of you who haven’t participated in a memorial stair climb, do yourself the favor and get involved.
Introducing whom I’ve had the honor to climb for in the past (left to right):
Fire Department of New York Firefighter Carl Asaro, Battalion 9
Fire Department of New York Firefighter David Fontana, Squad 1
Fire Department of New York Firefighter Mark P Whitford, E23

Let’s get back on topic and look at how Merriam-Webster defines a “job”, a “career” and a “calling”:

  • job, noun, something done for private advantage.
  • career, noun, a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life.
  • calling, noun, a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.

As firefighters, co-workers who fall into one of these categories relentlessly surround us: job, career or calling. For many of us, this is a job, a task that needs to be completed each day. For most of us, it is a career, a way to make ends meet and pay our bills. But for so few it seems, this is a calling. A calling that absolutely consumes us every minute, every hour, every day, both on and off duty.

We are the ones who live by the Fire Service Warrior Ethos. We spread the word on duty and off, in any means that we can. Whether it is social media, extracurricular reading, or a simple phone call. We are a breed of firefighters striving to become Warriors who are on the verge of extinction. For those who call this profession a calling, you are not alone. Look around. Who is wearing the appropriate color each Friday? Who is constantly spending their hard earned money on a new fire service book or subscription instead of going out for a night on the town? Who is pushing themselves both mentally and physically in the classroom and in the gym? We are.

Know that we are alive in each and every fire department, in the United States, and we don’t have all the answers, but we will strive to learn, even when we are off duty on our four-day. When we come back to our calling with the information, we pay it forward to other members. It is the expectation that each member continue to pay it forward to another who is willing to learn that same information. With these steps and this determination and motivation, we are breeding new Warriors.
Gaining new knowledge is one thing, but applying it is another. Not only in a classroom, but also out in the field in full PPE, no more forcing doors in just bunker pants, helmets and gloves. We must practice as we play! Full PPE, every time, every day. Let us become comfortable wearing our gear, so comfortable that when we train without we feel uncomfortable.

Underperformance is not fair to us, our co-workers, or the citizens that demand we perform when they call us on their very worst of days. Remaining comfortable and performing competently in our full PPE is an unconditional necessity; as our citizens, brothers, sisters and our calling continuously demand that we remain persistent in order to protect ourselves and our citizens from unrestrained fire and property loss.

What type of fire service would you like to leave behind? The choice is always yours; it’s never someone else’s. If you have a lazy company officer that refuses to train or just squeaks by with the minimum, go train by yourself. That alone will send a message; a message that you all deserve more. Or would you favor a day of television on the couch instead of progressing your company with exceptional training? Is this fire service model something you can live with after you retire? Every one of us will someday retire. As much as we would love to serve this calling indefinitely, we will eventually have to hang it up. Retirement may be hard to fathom for some, but should be a sobering reality for all of us. Today is our day, this is our fire service, and we have one chance to enhance it for the members emerging after us. So what is it, a job, a career or a calling? It’s time to ask yourself these questions. I know what my fire service is, what will yours be?

Brennan, C. (2011). The Combat Position: Achieving Firefighter Readiness. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Corporation.


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