On Being Called A Hero

By Richard Marinucci

Recently I was playing golf. Because I was by myself, I was paired up with two other gentlemen, a father and son. As is customary we talked in generalities and about golf. Eventually the discussion came around to occupations. I was asked what I do for a living. There was a time when I couldn’t wait to tell because everyone was so positive about the fire service. However for the past couple of years, some people haven’t been quick to offer their support. Some even take the opportunity to express their displeasure with firefighter pay, benefits, and pension. Regardless, I am a firefighter and that is what I said. Before I could say much more, both men said that they considered me a hero and were glad that I was playing with them.

Hero? Me? No!
I have never been a fan of or being referred to as being a hero. I like what I do for a living. I am proud of what I do. I think I have given a solid effort every day. But being a hero? I don’t think so. I have never referred to myself as a hero nor have I ever let on that I think others should view me that way. I wonder how other firefighters consider themselves and how they respond when the public makes these statements.

My reaction was to downplay the comment and try to change the subject. I don’t know if that is the right thing to do but I was very uncomfortable and needed to get on to something else. I don’t know if my new golf partners noticed my discomfort but we got back to our recreation. If anyone has a good way to react and respond, I would sure like to hear some suggestions. I believe my newfound golfing buddies were sincere and were not trying to make me uncomfortable. I am not sure my reaction was the best it could have been.

Support System
Speaking of heroes, I had the opportunity to hear Captain Charlie Plumb speak at Fire Rescue Med this past May. He is an incredible human being but humble. The title of his book is “I’m No Hero.” It is his story of being shot down over Vietnam and spending nearly six years in captivity. In his speech and the forward of his book he relates a story of a man who recognized him years after and tells him he was the one who packed his parachute. This gets you thinking about all the support we have to make sure we are ready to respond to any emergency. Think about those that support the suppression forces, from the mechanics to those that acquire and maintain critical safety equipment. Don’t forget the fire prevention bureau and building departments that work hard to make sure there are safety features in the buildings. We need to make it a habit to remember all those that help and thank them frequently. The list is a lot longer than we might think at first. They are as much “heroes” as anyone. Please take time to recognize those that pack all the metaphorical “chutes” that allow you to do your job and be successful.

Take No One for Granted
At the beginning of the 20th century, (that would be the early 1900s) Chief Ed Croker of the FDNY stated something along the lines of, “a man is a hero when he joins the fire department. After that he is just doing his job.” I sincerely believe that to be true and it might explain why the vast majority of fire service professionals don’t consider themselves heroes. They are just doing what they signed up to do. Doing the job well requires a great team, more than just those who respond. Whether or not we consider firefighters heroes, we must include everyone who makes quality emergency response possible and not take them for granted. Find time to say thank you.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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