“The world needs heroes. We all need heroes. A friend of mine once said that firefighters don’t need to be Superman. He was partly wrong. Sometimes we do need to be Superman or Superwoman or, more correctly, we need to be that archetype, that perfect model of what a firefighter represents to the world.
“As firefighters, we were taught early on that there are basically six core values which are indisputably essential to being a firefighter: Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect for others, Integrity, and Loyalty. In order to have the ability to live up to any one of those values, there is one value that is indispensable. There is one upon which all the others depend: Courage.
“Aristotle said, ‘Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.’
“This morning, for our purposes, we can think of courage in two settings–physical courage, which is also often called bravery, and moral courage, which is sometimes defined as character. As firefighters, we routinely show tremendous physical courage. It is unquestionably a fundamental reality of our day-to-day work. We do not fear fighting fire, we do not fear taking risks physically.
“As firefighters, we are brave, courageous. When we are fighting fire, we know the risks, we know the dangers, but we are not fearful of them. They are deadly but they are not evil.
“Moral courage is when one is willing to risk the threat of evil imposed upon them by others for expressing the truth, or opposing an orthodoxy, a set of beliefs by which they cannot abide. Moral courage can also be when one refuses to deny that which one holds as truth. Moral courage in that case would be when one refuses to lie to avoid punishment. Moral courage involves taking a risk and surviving physically but perhaps not socially, politically, or financially. Moral courage involves being able to take a stand albeit unpopular or one that contradicts those with power.
“Superman’s tagline is interesting regarding moral courage. The archetype of Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American way.
“We have all experienced seeing things that others are doing that we thought were out of place or even wrong but later turned out to be right or true. Think of Andy Fredericks when he started saying. It was heresy and they would not stand for it. But now we know Andy was right. Everyone does. Flowing water on smoke or not flowing water on smoke was subjective and context dependent. Now we get it, gas cooling all of it. But not then. Then it was not mainstream. If we had had Twitter in the ’90s, it would have been a bloodbath. The attacks on Andy would have been epic.
“Within us all is a tremendous capacity for good and a tremendous capacity for evil. The ultimate sign of outstanding character, true character, is to be able to suppress the evil and elevate the good. We would like to think that we are all virtuous, that we are all always on the side of the good, of the right, that we are crusaders for truth, justice, and the American way.
“The public, society, does think its firefighters are crusaders for truth, justice, and the American way. The society that we work for, the American public, expects us to be the moral equivalent of Superman. But the reality is, most folks are not crusaders. They just want to be left alone.
“It is so bloody amazing how all of us can be intimidated by some of the most desperately unhappy people with absolutely miserable personal lives and usually zero street cred as firefighters just because of the garbage they can generate on social media. And so we comply, or we are silent–it’s the same thing.
“Douglas Murrey puts the dilemma this way: You have two options in life–to speak the truth as you see it or the other is to grow to despise yourself more and more each day. If you repeat the lies or if you are silent, you will grow to despise yourself more and more each day. And the more you grow to despise yourself, the easier you are to control. The more you allow them to force you to lie, the less you care about your own character. For most people, it is exceptionally difficult to stand up to the mob.
“We are the lucky ones. Our training, our experience, our focus and dedication make us ready, willing, and able to defy the mob.
“Every now and then, we do get to be Superman, each and every one of us. We get to show that we have moral courage.
“If we are going to make a difference, if we are going to live up to that archetype of what the firefighter means to society and the public, then we have to first of all embrace the virtue of courage. Whether the issue is simple and not complicated such as interior versus exterior, roof ventilation versus horizontal ventilation, or whether it is deeply important and complex such as meritocracy versus equity, freedom of religion versus freedom from religion, we must speak the truth.
“We must defend our God-given right as Americans to speak our opinions, to voice our thoughts, even if we are alone in those thoughts.
“Every person has the right to their own thoughts, their own ideas, their own opinions. We do not have to agree with them but we do have to allow them their expression, their voice. To do otherwise is tyranny.
“Today we are talking about the most important virtue, courage–courage to do the right thing, courage to say what you know to be true, courage to be willing to accept the consequences of speaking the truth.
“We need to keep up hope, we need to stay engaged. As Jordan Peterson would say, we need to keep our own houses in order. We need to stay physically healthy, emotionally healthy, and spiritually healthy. We must practice at being virtuous, courageous, so that when that the time comes when we do have to be a little bit of Superman, we don’t let ourselves, and those who need us down.
“We should be willing to stand alone like Leo Stapleton, demanding we wear packs; like Chief O’Hagan, requiring we get higher education; like Alan Brunacini, demanding we be nice to Mrs. Smith; like Bill Clark, insisting we pay more attention to fire behavior; like Pete Ganci, insisting we push the limits all the time, especially on the basics; like Andy Fredericks, challenging the orthodoxy of never throwing water on smoke. When the fire service needed them, they were Superman.
“And so, disagree when we must, but do so with compassion and understanding. Be passionate about your position and defensive of the position of others. Be willing to agree to disagree, but never allow yourself to be compelled to say anything that you know not to be true.
“We must be courageous, committed, disciplined, respectful, truthful, and loyal. These are incredibly difficult times. The world needs its firefighters more than ever because the world needs heroes. And no, we don’t have to be Superman all the time but when we must be, we better be ready, because the world needs you.