We all know it is hard to be a special operator forever. The toll the job takes on an individual, let alone a family, can be high. Lots of guys—and it is still mainly guys— do four to six years of service, maybe more, then move on to do other things. Former SEALs, Green Berets, PJs, Rangers, CCTs, MARSOC Marines, and the rest have moved into all kinds of other career fields after their time spent as America’s finest warriors. Simply put, it is hard to shoot, move, and communicate forever, especially when you are trying to start and successfully maintain a family, and be there to watch your offspring grow. Unending deployments and breakneck operational cycles can only be offset for so long by more money and adrenaline.
What, then, is one to do after leaving the service, to maintain a lifestyle that has at least some excitement to it, and that also allows for consistent involvement in family life and child-rearing? Rest easy, friends, for I have the solution. Luckily, there is a job out there that allows you to face an enemy, rush headlong into fire (literally), and feel like you are making a difference to the world: firefighting.
Here are the top five reasons to consider fighting fires when you are finished fighting America’s foes.
1. Adrenaline. If you are worried that you are not cut out for the tedium of a desk job, and you have yet to find a way to make money shooting, running, swimming, or hanging out with your buddies, then firefighting is for you. The adrenaline rush of heading to a working structure fire is hard to match, as you race the clock to gear up, simultaneously going through your mental checklist of on-scene actions for when you arrive in order to stay alive and get your job done. Going from zero to 50 miles-an-hour (literally) at two o’clock in the morning in a screaming firetruck is hard to beat, and highly addictive. I guarantee you will dig it.
2. Mission focus. In much the same way that special operators appreciate the mission focus of the SOF community, where each day’s tasks revolve around becoming better operators and preparing to successfully carry out assigned missions, firefighters also maintain a laser-like focus on core missions. Do not misunderstand the point: firefighters, just like military personnel, still perform lots of mundane tasks, from cleaning toilets to testing fire hose, but these tasks are done in the same way that a special operator cleans a rifle, or performs maintenance on a zodiac boat. You perform the tasks you need to perform to accomplish your mission. You don’t suffer unnecessary BS for the sake of doing BS. If it makes you a better firefighter, or is necessary for your job, then you do it. If not, then you forget it.
3. Camaraderie. One of the reasons all of us love being in the SpecOps community, let’s face it, is because we get to spend time working, living, and fighting with our brothers. The relationships that are forged not only in war, but also in peacetime, are irreplaceable and deep. In a civilian environment, it is hard to replicate the conditions under which those friendships form. Fortunately, firefighting provides those same type of conditions. You form lifelong bonds in war, and you form those same bonds when crawling through burning buildings in the dark of night. When a fire crew of three wrestles a 2 1/2-inch firehose into a burning building to extinguish the flames, it is hard not to come away with a meaningful shared experience. You also live together with your brother and sister firefighters, such that you are not only sharing the exciting and challenging times, but also the quotidian. For 24 or 48 hours at a stretch, every third or fourth day, you all live, eat, sleep, and work together. The parallels with (especially) deployed military members are significant and meaningful.
4. Lifestyle. The firefighting lifestyle, in contrast to the military, need only take you away from home, most commonly, one night out of every three, for 24 hours at a time. You are also, while working, typically only a few miles from your home, and your family can come visit you after working hours, on weekends, and on holidays. Additionally, with the ability to trade shifts, pick vacations, and be home for two days out of three when you are not working, you will rarely ever again have to miss an important life event. You are grounded in your community, and an important part of it, such that you are rooted in a way that you never were in the military. You become a symbol of your community, and one that people count on to be there when needed.
5. Continued service. That brings us to the last, and most important reason to consider firefighting when you leave the special operations community: the opportunity to continue your service. Whether or not we ever admit it out loud, most of us join up because we feel a sense of duty to our country, and we want to serve it the best we can. We experience deep pride that we answered the call, and we lose an important part of ourselves when we leave the service. You do not have to lose it, though, if you serve at a local level, directly, in your own community.
The sense of service you can feel is often palpable: When a man thanks you for helping his wife at a motor vehicle accident; or a family expresses their worry to you and your crew, about your safety, as their own home burns down; or when you have to comfort a family member who has just lost a loved one, after you were the first to arrive to answer the 911 call. On a daily basis, the satisfaction you will feel will help fill the hole left when you separated or retired from the military.
Service as a firefighter will provide you with a sense of accomplishment that you probably thought you had lost forever when you received your DD-214. You can make a difference to people on a daily basis, while also fulfilling your need for excitement and adrenaline, and you can do all of it without the sacrifice of leaving your family behind for months at a time. You can be an integral part of your family and community, and serve with pride. Consider it.
Author’s Note: Four of the six firefighters pictured above are U.S. military veterans.