Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Fire Doesn't Care

One of the unfortunate expressions of prejudice that sometimes occurs in the fire service is how paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters are viewed differently. Somehow, because one holds a paid position, supposedly the work they perform is more legitimate that the labor accomplished by the volunteer. Certainly it may be true that paying someone offers a level of accountability not attached to the volunteer, for the salary cannot be capped or reduced for the one that is paid nothing. However, if the motive for excellence in both is their own safety and that of their comrades, then the motive is equal for both since the dangers do not distinguish between paid and volunteer personnel. In other words...

The fire doesn't care.

The dangers incurred by first responders do not care whether they are paid or unpaid, whether they are a veteran firefighter or a green rookie, whether they work for a large municipal department or a small rural department, whether their apparatus is a new creation or an old hand-me-down. The fire doesn't care.

It doesn't care whether it was started by a faulty electrical plug or a space heater, whether it was born in the kitchen or the den, whether it's destroying someone's home or business, whether the owner has good insurance or not, whether priceless heirlooms will be lost or just replaceable inventory. The fire doesn't care.

It doesn't care whether the firefighter is single or married, whether they are male or female, what age they are, what religion they practice - if any, whether they have children or not or how many, what their race, creed or country of origin might be. It doesn't care if they're rich or poor, tall or short, old or young, highly educated or simply degree'd in the "school of hard knocks." It doesn't care what might be the political affiliation of the firefighter, the sexual orientation, the family history or their reputation in the community. The fire doesn't care.

For this reason I have heard fire chiefs bristle at the differentiation of "professional" firefighters with volunteers, for indeed unpaid personnel can carry themselves and operate in a highly "professional" manner. I have observed this before. I have seen volunteer firefighters act with the excellence, initiative, diligence, pride and "professionalism" that many often ascribe to paid departments, but in which there is no guarantee of excellence merely because they're paid. On the contrary, I have seen paid departments plagued with the cancer of complacency because leadership did not demand of all personnel the standards required by the fire. Excellent departments, whether paid or volunteer, recognize that the fire has it's own standards, and does not compromise them for the sake of whoever might be responding to kill it.

Great departments recognize that the fire doesn't care. The fire sets the standard, we do not. Unsafe practice is still unsafe whether I'm paid to be unsafe about it. Paid shoddy and unpaid shoddy are all still shoddy. Because the fire doesn't care whether the department responding to it are volunteer or paid, departments do well to strive for all the same excellence whether paid or not. Volunteers do well to rival the performance of paid departments because they know that the fire doesn't care.The standards are set by the "dragon" that hates all people the same. "It's a living thing," asserted Robert De Niro in the movie "Backdraft." Going on to explain, "It's breathes...it eats...and it hates." The fire hates all the same. It doesn't care who you are. It will burn up, collapse a building on, flash over, rekindle behind the back, hide in walls from or stare down any and all personnel regardless of their status as a paid or volunteer firefighter. The fire doesn't care.

Of course, this all serves as an analogy to the Church. The threefold "fire" or the world, the flesh and the devil all hate God, his people and the cosmos he has made. These destructive forces don't care whether one is clergy or laity, whether male or female, whether young or old, rich or poor, local or foreign, married or single. And this "fire" especially doesn't care whether the minister is paid or not who is charged to share the Gospel and spread God's grace, making disciples of all nations. The "fire" doesn't care whether you're well spoken or suffer from chronic stuttering, whether you're a "people person" or a shy recluse, whether you feel "called by God" or just read the command in the Bible, whether you've had years of seminary training or simply need the training of an astute Sunday school teacher. The spiritual "fire," that hates all that is good, doesn't care.

In a previous post I compared local churches to fire stations. Along that line, those that are sent out into the world, to combat the "fire" that destroys the human soul, must remember that the "fire" doesn't care. Therefore, all are just as reliant on God and his unwavering truth for guidance and strength. The trained clergy is no less reliant on the Holy Spirit than the fresh layman. The Christian is longstanding character is no less in need of Divine help than those recently redeemed from a formerly destructive path. The "fire" doesn't care...Christ is equally necessary to all for redemption, restoration and resurrection.

The analogy holds true concerning the Church because it is equally true concerning the fire service. The fire doesn't care, and it has been my privilege to serve with two departments now that realize this. As often as possible, my hope is to remind the Church of it as well.

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