Brotherhood – Are you united, or just lined up?


When presented with the question of what does Brotherhood (specifically in the fire service) mean to me, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it was to describe. I attempted to define it but found that also was difficult to do. A good analogy for me goes something like this; What is air? I can’t see it, but I can’t live without it. If I am under water, I can’t breathe it without SCUBA gear. If I’m in a fire, I need SCBA to breathe it. For something that is so vital to my existence, it really is very transparent. I have come to appreciate cold weather because at least then I can see my breath, if only for a moment. Brotherhood is like that. You can’t see it, but you can experience it, and in the fire service we definitely need it.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery said this about brotherhood, “One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” Globally we are all in a brotherhood. We all breathe the same air, we all see the same stars, and we are all warmed by the same sun. So we are in a brotherhood, a brotherhood of man, if you will. But what about the firefighter Brotherhood? I have researched the term and find that we are very good at having tattoo’s and t-shirts espousing “Our Brotherhood” and some very nice designs to go along, but we really aren’t very good at describing it. “I’ve got your back?” It has to mean more than that.

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I did find this quote which comes closer to the meaning I was looking for. “You cannot see brotherhood; neither can you hear it nor taste it. But you can feel it a hundred times a day. It is the pat on the back when things look gloomy. It is the smile of encouragement when the way seems hard. It is the helping hand when the burden becomes unbearable.” Peter E. Terzick Regardless of what we say, we really do appreciate the pat on the back, especially if it comes from one our fellow firefighters. And sometimes it is just a smile or a nod. But we know it and feel it when we see it. And sometimes, because of a family death, a divorce, serious injury to a loved one, or any number of events that bring us down, yes sometimes we all need that helping hand.  That’s the brotherhood I’m trying to describe. Our Brotherhood is like the air we breathe. We can’t see it, but we know when we’ve got the good stuff going on.

There were many times when I would go outside the firehouse, sit on the bench facing the street, and just have a big grin on my face. Maybe it was the great job we just got finished with, or a really good extrication, or a cardiac arrest we brought back. But just thinking of how we all worked together as one and performed so well, it was like a breath of fresh air that brought a smile to my face.  

For sure there were bad times. The children who did not make it, the person we could not extricate fast enough to save, or the 21 year old female who overdosed and we just could not get a heartbeat. But we still all worked as one. We did our best.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, Charles Dickens. For my career, it was the best job I could have ever had. Even the worst day on the job was still a good day. But I didn’t do it alone. I had my Brothers at the firehouse, as I am sure all of you do.

That’s how we make it through. Because we care about each other. We help each other. We become concerned for each other. We spend time with each other.

That’s brotherhood for me. Like a family away from home, or better still a family at my second home. As a family, We are not separated by our differences but are united by our passion. It can’t really be defined, it can only be experienced.

We Lucky Few, We Band of Brothers, William Shakespeare

By the way – In my book, female and male firefighters are all my brothers!

Stay Safe – Remember, all of our Brothers go home.

William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.

Posted in Brotherhood, Chief William Jolley, Fire Service, Firefighting.