“The Lifestyle”: There is no doubt about it – being a law enforcement professional is a 24/7/365 lifestyle that impacts not only the cop but the cop’s family. It affects everything from absences during holiday celebrations to holding hands with your significant other when walking in public (that gun hand has to stay empty). It affects how you drive, what you wear/carry, and where you sit in a restaurant. It affects how much you relax in a movie theater, especially since the Aurora, CO theater mass shooting, and when you prefer to shop during the Christmas season. What I’m trying to say is that “the job” affects how a cop lives every minute of every day EXCEPT (possibly) when (s)he’s home, relaxing, with all communication devices turned off.
Firemen are a different breed. In their “normal” life (the volunteers anyway) they do any job you can think of from plumbing to HVAC to stock broker. MOST of the ones I know are employed in “blue collar” jobs. Those jobs are what they do to pay their bills, and it’s time away from the firehouse that they tolerate out of necessity. They spend the necessary time with the families too, but they LIVE to be at the firehouse, eagerly awaiting the call to a working fire. I can’t begin to describe the disappointment I’ve heard when a fire truck arrives on the scene and there’s “smoke showing,” only to find out that it’s “food left on the stove. No fire.”
Often, if you ask these brave folks (and I’m not kidding about that; more in a moment) what they do, they’ll identify themselves as a firefighter even though that’s not where they get their paycheck. It’s how they visualize themselves. It’s the driving motivator in their day to day life. It’s what’s on their mind 24/7 as much as possible. The HUGE difference is that it’s what they CHOOSE to do with their free time while most cops WISH they could escape their profession during their time off, but can’t completely.
Now, about my comment that firefighters are brave folks: I am not kidding in any way. Yes, law enforcement professionals are equally courageous and we’ll bicker with our firefighter brethren about who is the bravest. We joke about being each-others heroes and we make fun of how we each face life threatening situations.
“If fighting fires was easy, cops could do it.”
“If fighting crime was easy, firefighters could do it.”
We joke, but here’s reality: I am a cop and was a volunteer firefighter for about six years back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. One day I went on a fire call – a good working fire in an apartment building – and when I got to the doorway a little voice in the back of my head said, “One day the fire’s going to win.” It was my last fire call. I did what I had to do and did it well that day. Afterward, back at the station, I went to the fire captain and told him I’d only run EMS calls from then on. I knew that my hesitation… my doubt… might get me or a fellow firefighter hurt.
Why do I have that outlook about firefighting but not police work? Fire is a force of nature. Police officers enforce the law on and help PEOPLE. Think about it: fire’s not going away forever. We use it too much. Too many people are careless. It behaves in unpredictable ways sometimes. Fighting a fire is an unknown quantity and that’s exactly what appeals most to some firefighters – the unknown level of danger they face as they perform. Fighting people is more of a known quantity. Sure, they might be high on some drug that makes the fight ugly, but ultimately people can be disabled or killed; you can never be totally sure about that with a fire.
In the end, when you think about it, law enforcement officers – the large majority of them – do the job because it’s their job and they accept that it will impact how they live their life until they retire (and honestly? Even after that). Firefighters live for the rush and pride of saving something or someone; the potential to be a hero. It’s a good thing we have each other though, because none of us could do it all by ourselves.