As I sit here at work tonight, it's hard not to notice a recent dip in the morale of the Department. Of course, new administrations, new transfer lists, new protocols, and new orders from up top will happen to any agency—but it's always been in the spirit of firefighters to push on through all the everyday BS to stick to the real job at hand.
Now, I could choose to let what's constantly griped and complained about "get to me," but I've often found the best way to keep on keepin' on is to remind myself of what's really important.
Several weeks ago, I was lent a book that I had been trying to get ahold of for my entire (short) career. "100 Years Of Glory" was compiled by Department members in 1971 for the centennial celebration of the founding of the District of Columbia Fire Department. The preface written by the then-fire chief struck me from the very first moment I opened the book.
You don't often see writing like this in the fire service nowadays.
I present to you this passage, typed verbatim from the opening pages, that helps me get through some of the more tumultuous days at work. I hope it may help any of my brethren who may be suffering some of the same (or worse) situations all over the country.
The proud history of the District of Columbia Fire Department should not be measured only in terms of the past one hundred years, for the roots of our present-day organization are planted in a time far earlier than that. Granted, that in 1871 the Washington City Fire Department officially became the District of Columbia Fire Department, and that the name change now gives justification to celebrate our centennial anniversary; but to the men fighting the fires at the time of the change it was simply another year of perpetuating their already magnificent and lengthy record of service to the community of Washington. For while the creation of the department was abruptly accomplished by the stroke of an official's pen, the evolutionary process and the transition from groups of volunteer firefighters to a paid agency of government has spanned a far greater period of time. But throughout all the interval of change, one factor remained unchanged, and that was the desire of certain men to become the trustees for the community's fire safety.
Our heritage of dedication to safeguard the citizenry was delivered down through the years by men of rugged determination who, often with inadequate equipment, but always with indominatble spirit, defended the nation's capital against the ravages of fire. Those, "brave smoke-eating fire laddies" of years gone by—who so capture our imagainations and call to our minds many tales of heroic deeds and legedary feats—contributed immeasurably to the lore of our Department and enriched our value to the city.
To follow in the footsteps of those courageous men is indeed an honor, but to serve with the present membership is a greater honor yet. To laud our predecessors is to give them substance, but the stature of those now present overshadows them. While times, equipment, styles, and methodology have changed, surely the firefighter's view of his mission in life has remained steadfast. The contemporary public protector's acceptance of the hazards of his job, and his willingness to make the supreme sacrifice should the need arise, bespeak his devotion to duty; but more than that, they express the unchanging humanitarian concern which binds firefighters together across the nation as well as across the years.
The citizens of the District of Columbia are assured that our Department possesses all of the traditional dedication, zeal, and fidelity—but beyond that, our Department reflects the desire of every man to do his utmost to establish high levels of personal effort within the job. The unfaltering fulfillment of his responsibility by the 1971 firefighter has now left a legacy for those yet to come. May the men who celebrate the bicentennial anniversary in 2071 evaluate us by the light of history and judge us as having exhibited the greatest possible degree of competent professionalism and altruistic attitude.
Joseph H. Mattare,
Fire Chief (1971)