A Dead German’s View of Courage

I was getting ready to go to bed the other night and didn’t have a book in particular that I wanted to read, so I went trolling the book shelves and pulled out Essays and Aphorisms a Penguin Classics edition of Arthur Schopenhauer’s work.  Schopenhauer was a German (of Dutch decent) philosopher born in 1788.   (I know, I know, German philosophy and a taste for fine wine tends to confuse people when they hear I’m a fireman, but my life is equally filled with Jameson and Irish Rebel Music, get over it.)  Schopenhauer is best know for his work, The World as Will and Representation.

Essays and Aphorisms is a collection of shorter works of philosophy.  So, I grabbed it from the shelf and thumbed through the table of contents to find a piece I had not read before.  I chose, “On Ethics”.  I was enjoying myself when I reached the Eureka! moment (which I seem to find in anything I read).

“Courage however implies that one is willing to face a present evil so as to prevent greater evil in the future, while cowardice does the reverse.”

I suppose that may be a core supporting idea to the Fire Service Warrior concept.  We race into burning buildings because in doing so we prevent a greater evil… that of our neighbors suffering the loss of their lives or property.  Perhaps, even more so is that we prevent them losing their sense of humanity.  We race into those buildings because we have accepted as our duty to protect our neighbors from fire.  Kurt Vonnegut said, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to his fellow man than a fire Engine.”  That attitude would not be there if we did not risk of ourselves to protect others.

Maybe it is off topic but firefighters and fire departments across the county have come under attack of late.  We are seen as being a drain on municipal resources.  We cost valuable dollars, but like an insurance policy we are not valued until we are needed.  The result has been lay-offs, and brownouts, and reductions in services across the country.  We saw the City of Camden layoff 70 firefighters, the City of Gary 40, and countless municipalities lay off line firefighters as a means of saving money.

At issue is the perception that we, the firefighters are to blame.  There is an effort on the part of politicians to cast us as overpaid dilettantes.  There is very little understanding about what we do.  There is zero acknowledgment of the risks we face.  I think every politician should watch the video of the Houston Fire Department Mayday from 2007.

The DVD of this MAYDAY is available from the guys over at The Bravest. It is a heck of a thing to listen to the sound of a brother taking what could have been his last breaths.

We must make it clear what we will and will not do.  That is my entire point about the importance of defining missions.

Just a few thoughts.  Cheers.


  1. Fire Critic says:

    I love that quote you found.

    This basic fundamental of our job…you know the part about willing to risk our lives is the part that too many firefighters don't understand. This should be day 1 in recruit schools.

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