Cantankerous Wisdom: Keep Politics & Wokeness Out of the Fire Station!

By Bill Adams

I’ve belonged to three fire departments since 1962. Each had two similar “understandings” that were passed down over the years: The first was to keep politics and religion out of the fire station; the second was if you don’t want your private parts busted, find another vocation.

Politics in FD’s

Immediately after the Civil War, most volunteer fire companies were associated with immigrant cliques, political parties, and, regrettably, even street gangs. As the public required and demanded adequate fire protection, the fire service matured into career and volunteer entities whose sole purpose was firefighting. Career departments in cities relied on the political party in power for funding; the volunteers needed financial support from an entire community. Back then firefighters lived where they served, so it was best not to aggravate any political party or ethnic or communal group—regardless of their beliefs and prejudices.

Fast-forward 100 years and my fire company followed the same principles. Firemen’s Sunday, an annual event, was rotated to different churches in town. No preferential treatment was given; they all got equal billing. Electioneering was not allowed in the station. Political and religious flyers and advertisements were never seen.

Individual teasing was never a major problem. I’ve said before everyone knew the Italians made the best “sauce and balls” and the Irish the best “corned beef and cabbage.” The biggest guy in the outfit was called “Tiny,” and “Slim” was the tag for the heaviest. So what? Who cares? Everyone did their job. We laughed at each other or ourselves and went home. No one got their bunkers in a twist.

The Woke Society

Today, there must be something in the water or air that’s causing people to be “woke” about everything. There are multiple definitions for being woke—probably intentionally made to satisfy everyone who might have a complaint about something, whether it’s valid or not. When I was still active, terms like vigilance, being deprived, activism, marginalization, inequality, and disparity were used for specific reasons.

*You had to be vigilant because Slim kept eating the Italians’ leftover sauce and balls.

*You were deprived when Slim ate everything in the icebox.

*Activism was when you kept pressuring the town fathers to buy an aerial ladder because there weren’t enough people around to throw the 50-foot bangor–a good point.

*Being marginalized is when your engine company is taken off a mutual aid assignment because your rig doesn’t have the same pump and tank capacity that everyone else has—a very valid reason.

*Inequality is when the city buys the busy “downtown” engine company a new rig every couple of years while your company gets the downtown company’s hand-me-down apparatus. Whine all you want–there’s a good reason for their decision.

*Disparity can be a difference in anything. Who cares what the sign (or picture) says on the restroom door? Nobody really cares if the hydrantman or nozzleman must stand or squat to pee. The real concern is having a place to do it. And you get quick water—from the hydrant. Worry about doing your job—not what the sign on the outhouse door says.


I contend the fire service is a quasi-military organization and must be so to function in possible life-and-death scenarios on a daily basis. There’s no time to negotiate, protest, demonstrate, or agitate when the tones drop and the public needs help. If firefighters have a problem they should follow the same process of using the chain of command that the military utilizes to voice any concerns. Don’t rock the boat just because you’ve got a bug located some place personal that you want to itch.

The Flag

The following photograph and “apology” were found online and forwarded to me by several people. (I have a tough time figuring out how my cell phone works. Social media is out of my safe zone.) Whether or not someone individually likes, honors, or respects a representative flag is their own choice. I believe firefighters generally respect everyone’s right to do so and they would not publicly, as a member of the brotherhood, denigrate those who believe otherwise.

I can’t fathom a member of the public disparaging and criticizing a fire department for displaying a flag paying tribute to their brethren who died on 911—all 343 of them. I guess that is their “right,” although I do not agree with it. What really aggravates me is why would the “powers that be” force a fire department to remove such a display of reverence to their fallen comrades—after the complaint of one person? Respect is a two-way street, and somebody wasn’t “woke” with that decision.

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