Often, the poor image our peers and the public have of us, comes from us.

One cold January morning, a “street musician” stood inside a Washington, D.C. Metro subway station at rush hour, took out his violin and began playing some classical music. Most of the commuters paid him no heed, a handful stopped to listen while waiting for their train to arrive, and some gave him money. When he was done, he collected some thirty something dollars and change. They may have thought that he was just another homeless person or unemployed musician.

He was Joshua Bell, considered to be one of the best classical violinists in the world who the night before performed a sold out concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall where ticket prices were $100. His Stradivarius violin is worth $3.5 Million dollars, and he performed some of Bach’s most difficult pieces written for the violin. Bell’s subway performance was a social experiment set up by the Washington Post to gauge people’s perceptions.

Let us take a good hard look at the Fire Department we serve on. Are we putting up a perception of a well functioning organization or a dysfunctional one?

Some fire department’s have the best when it comes to equipment. Their firehouses are brand new, everything is shiny, new and well maintained, yet the FD does not have the manpower to fill out an effective first alarm assignment by NFPA 1710 or 1720 standards and has to rely on mutual aid for just about everything.

Some fire department’s have crappy equipment and quarters. People look at the horrendous conditions of the stations; the trucks falling apart and think that “these no good bums don’t care about their community and have no pride”. The truth is the fact the firefighters deeply care about the job and have been underfunded and kept understaffed by the politicians who feel that saving a nickel on the tax rate and parks and recreation takes a priority to fire protection.

Some FD’s have good equipment, yet the trucks and tools are not kept clean. Some people may think “wow, they must be a really busy fire department… they don’t have the time to clean up after a fire” when in fact they really don’t care for one reason or another, whether it be laziness, a dispute with the city or town, a pissing match between shifts or a disagreement with the FD administration.

The public’s perception of who we are and what we do is formed by our actions or lack thereof. It is also formed by what is posted on social media by the public and by our own members. I have always had the mantra “praise in public, scold in private”. How many of our “brothers and sisters” air the FD’s dirty laundry in front of the public at the local diner, watering hole or on Facebook, yet do not give their brothers and sisters kudos for a job well done?

It is up to us to work together and strive to project a positive image, educate the politicians and the public and defend our profession. How many times do we have to shoot ourselves in the foot with “bullets of negativity” until we realize that it hurts?


Ron Ayotte is a Deputy Chief of the Marlborough (MA) Fire Department and employee to the Support Services division of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Service/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.

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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”
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