|Chris Mc Loone|
It is very easy to get caught up in our day-to-day activities and the requirements to be a firefighter today.
Whether we are career or volunteer, the time commitments to stay abreast of everything we need to know to stay at the top of our game are greater than ever before. The incidents to which we respond are not the same as they were as little as 20 years ago, and the challenges we face are always becoming more complex. Considering all this, it’s not surprising that at times, traditions fall by the wayside, becoming victims of not having enough time for them.
That’s why I was so glad to be invited to the housing ceremony for Engine 25 in the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department. The rig is one of two Spartan ER pumpers recently delivered to the city. Engine 68 had been “housed” the week before. This tradition has its origins in the days of horse-drawn fire apparatus. When a company would return from a run, members would have to disconnect the horses from the rig and back the apparatus into the firehouse because the horses could not go backward. At the housing for Engine 25, different groups pushed the truck into quarters three different times.
The master of ceremonies for the event was Captain Anthony Bompadre, and he had a few remarks about tradition. First, Engine 25’s motto is simply “Tradition,” and Bompadre cited a variety of traditions there. “Tradition is me having to beat these guys to the apparatus on every run,” he commented. “Tradition is getting a phone call on Monday saying our station inspection is the following morning and there was a miscommunication on the calendar and do we have to reschedule before we invite the deputy. My answer is a quick and confident, ‘Absolutely not, because this place is always in top condition.’ Tradition is when I sent the group message out that I received a phone call that we were receiving this beautiful new apparatus, and the answer I got was ‘Let’s do a housing and invite everybody.’ Tradition is following in your father’s footsteps in this company after he lost his life fighting a fire on June 13, 1984. And finally, tradition is the look I’m getting from my guys right now for giving them some well-deserved accolades that they never ask for.”
It had been many years since the Philadelphia Fire Department had held any housing ceremonies, but the department’s leadership recognized how important a return to the tradition was. Bompadre commented in the beginning of his remarks that change is good and is often necessary. But, he also recognized the Philadelphia Fire Department as an organization that is able to change with the times while holding on to much-needed traditions.
Last month, I discussed the concept of the “super scrub” that one department employed to ensure its apparatus and tools were in top condition at all times. We talk about the kitchen table being the center of the world in fire departments, but in many ways, so are the rigs. The apparatus carry our mottos, our personnel, and bear our pride in the traditions of our companies and our departments. That pride and tradition go beyond the color of the trucks, the location of equipment therein, or what size or type of pump goes on the engines. They are about the group who come out to clean the rigs “just because.” They are about the veteran who every year spends hours working on the pump panels before Independence Day parades and festivities. They can also be about that one member in the back of the room who asks, “Is the new truck going to have a bell on it?” because he can picture the shy kid who wants to wave but is timid and whose eyes light up with the first ring of the bell.
It had been a long time since the last housing I was able to attend. Time constraints being what they are, there just hasn’t been time to attend, or for many companies to plan them. But, I’m hoping that changes for my fire company as we prepare to welcome a new rig soon. Because, as Bompadre summed up, “I think it’s safe to say that some traditions are definitely worth keeping.”