A different perspective on PPE

CarolinaFireJournal - Andrew Starnes
Andrew Starnes
10/10/2014 -

Crawling down a smoke filled hallway, the heat pushes you close to the floor, and your training is telling you a flashover is imminent. Your crew cools the ceiling as you push forward searching for a child trapped in the home. You see the outline of the child on the thermal imaging camera (TIC), make the rescue, and bring him out to safety.

A firefighter is able to enter such a harsh and unforgiving environment due to his training and personal protective equipment (PPE). Without the proper attire a firefighter would be injured or killed in such an environment. In a moment, when you are able to make such a rescue, you are thankful for the protection of your gear. Firefighters are well trained on the use of personal protective equipment but let us take a look at an often unprotected area of a firefighter: their personal life.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground,” (Ephesians 6:13).

What does this mean and how does it apply to a firefighter?

When the moment comes, firefighters “answer the call” and provide assistance to those in need. Firefighters do not ask that anyone be worthy of their service; It is quite the opposite. They don’t ask for recognition nor reward but merely the opportunity to serve. It takes a special person to fulfill the role of a firefighter. The world can be a dark place full of tragedy, sorrow, and despair. To serve as a firefighter you must have a heart big enough to hurt with the world around you but not absorb their pain. This path can leave emotional scars upon the servant. How does anyone carry such a burden and continue on? How does an individual continue to serve in the face of repeated tragedy, loss and pain? Their gear may be protecting their body but what or who is protecting their heart?

Sadly, many firefighters cope with these experiences through alcohol, drugs, and other ways that are harmful to themselves and those they love. The pain of the tragic loss that firefighters are exposed to can be a reminder to always be thankful, or can be a cancer of their souls. Three out of four firefighters suffer a divorce. Firefighters have a double the risk of contracting cancer than the general population. Firefighters experience multiple traumatic events whether at work, at home or both. This leads to higher incidences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in firefighters, as high as 37 percent.

The training and experiences that a firefighter endures are meant to produce character in an individual like none other. This training, steeped in tradition, often leaves out the very foundation that we stand upon. This foundation is one of servant hood. One who embraces this calling lives sacrificially and reprioritizes his or her life to serve others. If one is to choose such a noble endeavor he would be wise to understand the values necessary to survive. These values can be found in the armor of God.

A firefighter’s turnout gear allows him to enter harsh environments and endure temperatures that would injure or kill an unprotected person. God’s word is what allows us to enter the harsh environment of this world. It is the source of our hope during times of personal adversity. At this point you may be wondering how “metaphorically” placing armor on our heart is possible? Let’s explore this concept further.

The Importance of Truth

A warrior’s belt was a critical component of his armor. The shield and sword would be attached to the belt. It was their starting point. In battle they would reach for their belt to retrieve their source of strength and defense. God’s truth is our belt. Everything rests upon it, everything depends upon it, and without it we will stand unprotected. What is your foundation? What do you base your entire world view upon? Do you believe in hope and why? Where is the basis for an individual to rest moral foundations upon in a world that constantly redefines truth? Is there an absolute, unshakable, foundational belief in your heart?

As firefighters the well trained and well protected are often the most vulnerable to pain, tragedy and loss. Why is this? It’s the author’s opinion that through experience and research, firefighters serve the least, the last, and the lost but often are unable to help themselves. A seasoned veteran firefighter may be capable of handling a multi-alarm fire, a hazardous material incident, a cardiac arrest, and the tragic death of a child all within the course of one shift. Then, they return home feeling ill-equipped to face the trials of a broken marriage, failed relationships, and/or very painful personal demons. Then they will return to work, serving others boldly, while secretly crying out on the inside: “Will someone please help me?”

Where do they go for help? Whom do they call on to rescue them?

The questions posed thus far all point back to one answer. Hope is not found in any material possession, medical advancement or financial security. All of which can be taken from us at any moment. The hope that comes from God is one of knowing that no matter the circumstances, no matter the trials, God has won the battle for us. And God has placed those in our life, the brotherhood, to come along side and help us to carry these burdens. It is our job to serve in spite of the world’s troubles and the only true way to do this is to be suited up for battle with the armor of God.

The Importance of “the Full Armor of God”

A symbol for strong faith, especially during times of adversity and stress in the Bible is Armor.

“Put on the full armor of God so that you take your stand against the devil’s schemes...”(Ephesians 6:11).

We must understand, as brothers in sisters in the fire service, that if our hearts are not protected with the “full armor of God” that no matter how well trained or dressed we may appear we are actually fragile and helpless on the inside.

A firefighter who is well trained functions in very challenging situations with a relative confidence and is able to stay calm in the midst of chaos. These concepts of training, discipline, and survival are dependent upon one who embraces their importance, practices them often, and knows that his very life depends on their ability to perform them.

Watch a firefighter don their PPE on the way to a fire. There is discipline in the movements that comes through training, repetition, and a respect for the task ahead of them. The armor of God: belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit are complete when they are put on together. A firefighter would not enter a burning structure without his complete PPE on. Firefighters understand that to be successful, to be protected, and to serve well they have to be fully prepared. This all begins with being properly dressed. We should all ask ourselves “Do we practice the same diligence in our personal lives?”

The Shield of Faith

Firefighters can endure harsh circumstances and environments, but what protects their heart? When the world attacks their heart with insults, opposition, loss, or tragedy what gives them hope? The “shield of faith” is similar to our outer shell of our turnout gear. Without the “shield of faith” the fiery attacks of this world will cause us great harm and may cause us to fall away. Any firefighter who has served for many years can attest to the “fiery attacks” of this world whether they were personal, professional or political. These attacks can cause unseen damage, like a raging fire burning inside a home that hasn’t shown itself yet; so it is with firefighters who carry these attacks in their heart. They are in a dangerous possession and need protection.

As firefighters, if we leave out critical steps in the process of completing a task we may become injured or worse. If you are a believer in the fire service and you see your brother or sister struggling around you don’t ignore it. As a student of the fire service, you read and study constantly to remain proficient. If you are struggling today, look to a brother or sister in the fire service who counsels others. Many of us are guilty of feeling the “spiritual nudge” to speak up and talk to another firefighter then dismiss it due to our pride. Firefighters are courageous, so let us have the moral courage to speak up and help one another.

The Importance of Fellowship

In the fire service we do everything together: Two in two out, stretching lines, cutting vent holes, CPR, and making rescues are all results of a focused team effort. The great hypocrisy we face is to perform such acts for our citizens and return to our stations only to ignore our fellow firefighter who is struggling. Unlike our turnout gear, the armor of God is not meant to be taken off. As you embrace God’s word you will become more sensitive to the needs of those around you.

The armor of God is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not something that we achieve, it is a gift given freely to us. When God’s armor is fully embraced you become a warrior like none other. The warrior you become is one who is able to perceive another’s deep need for comfort. Your situational awareness becomes heightened on a spiritual level which will make you a better firefighter, leader and family member.

How This Impacts Your Service

Every firefighter, understands the importance of the service he provides. We want to make a difference in other lives and if possible to save a life. The greatest available opportunity to “make a save” is closer than you realize. Do you want to make a difference? Would you like to save a life? Start by looking within the walls of your own fire station.

On average firefighters will spend one-third of their career with a core group of fellow firefighters. They come to know one another’s secrets, problems, idiosyncrasies and daily habits. They know each other better than they know some members of their own family.

The power of petition is often based on the depth and strength of one’s relationship with another. Some may give their life for another who they deeply love. They are also sensitive to their needs, desires, and concerns because their attention is not self-focused. As your relationship with God grows so will your opportunities to share the hope that is within you. Firefighters today are in desperate need of hope. Why do I believe this? If you serve in the fire service long enough you will see the signs of firefighters in need. As firefighters we must practice what we preach and be situationally aware of those in need around us. Come along side of them and lift them up. The definition of brotherhood goes deeper than showing up to help in the midst of crisis. Brotherhood is the daily act of serving those around them through their time, their gifts, their words and their testimony.

As a firefighter, you have embraced a call to servant hood and to help those in need. Your fellow firefighters do not require that you posses the means or abilities to provide a solution to their problem. They only require your willingness to be there for them.

My prayer for the fire service is that we would all take the time to perform “size-ups” of those around us and respond to their needs. A firefighter would not drive past a burning building so let’s not walk by a co-worker whose life is burning down around them. Take up your armor, respond, and you will find a new joy in fulfilling your calling as a firefighter.

Andy J. Starnes serves as a captain on the Engine Company where he supervises four firefighters in a busy metropolitan area. He has been employed as a firefighter since 1998. He is active in the local firefighters union, a CPAT proctor, a Level II Instructor. Starnes is a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb supporter and board member, and a member or the Kill The Flashover Project. He grew up in the volunteer fire service spending time watching his father serve their community.

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Issue 34.1 | Summer 2019

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