Is camaraderie a tradition we’re losing?
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
With the advent of the digital age (i.e., internet, smartphones, Wi-Fi, etc.), we have become our own private islands and become immersed in looking at the screens of our electronic devices.
What happened to communicating with people face-to-face or via phone rather than texting or emailing? Those days of interacting with our co-workers around a table are disappearing.
I recall when I first walked into the fire station there was a palpable bond that was apparent with the crew(s). Everyone had a nickname and someone was always working on a project, whether for the station, apparatus or a personal endeavor. It was a ritual and/or tradition to play a card game after lunch — the preferred game was Hearts. Usually, once a week, we played poker at night.
Every duty day, we would all go out to do exercise or do team sports. We had the privilege, at that particular station, to have access to an area for personnel that worked on cruise ships (the port was in our response territory).
Offerings included an Olympic pool, tennis courts, basketball courts and a quarter-mile oval track. We also had a trend of playing volleyball behind the station, and a nearby schoolyard enabled touch football or soccer. At my final station as a firefighter, we would go to the "now gone" Orange Bowl where we played Ultimate Frisbee or touch football, ran the stairs, or walked the ramps.
As a station, we would also plan off-duty activities — canoeing trips, fishing trips (if you did not have a boat, we would get you on one with someone from the station), helping another firefighter cut down unwanted trees or landscaping. If someone was building a new home, we would all go over to help for whatever was needed, whether it was manpower or required special skills like electrical work, concrete slabs, you name it. Someone would have a talent that could be utilized.
There is no doubt that firefighting is a team effort, and close relationships formed bonds as close as our families. The part that most firefighters miss upon retirement are those bonds and the people they worked with, not so much the excitement, the fires, or the emergency calls.
Recently, when I visit some of my old fire stations that I had worked at over the years, I feel like I have walked into a "morgue." There is no one around, the station seems "lifeless," like it is not breathing.
The old expression matches perfectly to fire stations, "If only these walls could talk." There is nobody cleaning their fishing poles, working on their cars, playing cards, or even playing pool for those stations that have pool tables.
Many firefighters also work off-duty, usually hiring other firefighters to help them or as their employees. I did carpentry with one of the crew members, worked in a gym owned by another firefighter, cut lawns and did landscaping for another with a lawn business. For the most part, firefighters are not lazy people and are always on the go and hustling.
Nowadays at the fire station, everyone disappears to their dormitory, gets on the TV or on their computers via Wi-Fi and stays there until the bell hits. At the end of a tour of duty, everyone can’t wait to leave the station, and when they do, they all go their separate ways.
For many years it was a tradition, first thing going off-duty, to go the beach, meet the firefighters that were involved in water sports, and sail, windsurf, jet ski, have a few beers — whatever! Usually the off-duty activities revolved around some type of sport, or off-duty work doing something.
I have even heard that at some stations there is no "cook." Each crew member goes out and eats independently of the others, instead of everyone sitting together in the dining room with a great firehouse meal.
The cook was considered the most valued and probably the most important person at the station. Along with being the cook, you got special privileges. You did not have to hold the watch and sit in the watch cage to answer the phones. You also did not have to pay for chow.
All you had to do was do the grocery shopping — meal plan, cook and stir. The cook always had a "KP" (which also had its privileges) to do the cutting, chopping, prepping the food and cleaning up afterwards with the help of other crew members.
If activities like the Super Bowl were occurring, and we were not on-duty, we would always go to a firefighter’s home that traditionally had it year after year. Our spouses and children would all become like family to each other and we would be willing to help — in a heartbeat — any way we can, at any hour. We would borrow each other’s stuff and share.
I believe we have started to lose some of these social practices. They cannot be replaced by social media apps. The stations and crews I worked with moved together as a group not only on-duty, but off-duty, too!
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