Just this morning I was exchanging emails with my boss about various business topics. Since our owning company (Cygnus Business Media) owns properties that serve all aspects of the public safety industry (law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel), part of the discussion was about the differences that exist in the PEOPLE who fulfill those different positions. Having served in several different uniforms (military, police and firefighter) I found myself pondering the different motivations and aspects. I’d appreciate your feedback on my thoughts if you disagree or if you have a different insight.
First, please understand, that I do truly believe the calling to public safety service, or even uniformed service in general, is in the blood. I am adopted child, separated from my mother at birth. I never met any of my siblings until about ten years ago. I found out, at that time, that I have six brothers and two sisters for a total of seven boys and two girls that my mom had. Of the seven boys, five of us have served in uniform. All five have worn a military uniform, and two of us have been police officers for a full career after having served in the military. How does one explain having so much in common when we didn’t have a common up-bringing?
Further evidence: Not long ago I made a presentation to a group of tactical officers. There were roughly 200 officers in the room. A quick question & answer session accompanied by a show of hands revealed that about three-fourths of them were either second generation public safety personnel OR they had blood relatives also serving in a public safety uniform. About two-thirds of them were prior military before joining a law enforcement agency and about one fourth of them were both law enforcement officers AND volunteer firefighters.
Second, we have to recognize that there ARE distinct differences between “cops” and “firefighters.” While many of us do serve, or have served, in both uniforms, by and large we are one or the other. Being “one or the other” is easy to observe when you consider some of our outlook or behavioral differences. Bear in mind as I list some of them, these are my observations based on my local work experience and what I’ve seen/heard as I’ve traveled around the country.
“The Brotherhood”: Within law enforcement this is generally strong. Whether you’re a town, city, county, borough, state or federal cop, a brother cop is a brother cop is a brother cop – unless it’s a SISTER cop – but we’re all still family. There are the exceptions and you do run into the “I’m better than you because I have a bigger jurisdiction,” issues, but in general, if “a badge” needs help, every “badge” will come to the rescue. We’ll make time to bicker afterward about something petty that doesn’t matter and then we’ll all tip a cold one as we tell war stories and reminisce. Often this is called “Choir practice,” and if we’re not careful we get ourselves in trouble during or after.
In fire departments, while firefighters will all work together to save lives and douse fires, when they’re not actively doing either one, they can fight like only brothers can. I’ve seen a whole fire house empty out into a parking lot carrying sledge hammers and axes to fight a whole ‘nother fire house that showed up on miscellaneous pieces of fire apparatus. And it can be one ugly fight. Of course, they usually also have all the necessary skills to patch one another up when they’ve gotten it all out of their system. The difference here is that firefighter PRIDE is usually what’s driving the fight. Which is the better house? Who has the better response time? Who runs the most calls? With a law enforcement agency such things aren’t usually debated except in good fun and certainly on fights over who runs the most calls. Usually we’re too busy trying to avoid assignment at the busiest district unless we’re young, highly motivated and eager to fatten up our personnel file with good stuff so we can pursue a transfer to a special unit.