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The t-shirt logo. Or ...the t-shirt logo?  Or ...the t-shirt logo!!!???

We released it on Facebook first, and we have had all three responses. I’m glad. I want to talk about it.

There has been a trauma to our culture over the last couple years. Our responses have highlighted deeper cultural deficiencies. As first responders, we adjust and we rally, it’s a gift and a curse. We often accept situations outside our control so quickly, we don’t actually process them. Let’s take a look.

2020 started as a season of plenty, also known as the “old normal.” It was blindsided in March by an “unknown pandemic” that caused most of the world to lock down completely. What followed next was various responses of agreement or disagreement towards the lockdowns, masks, vaccines, school attendance, restaurant availability (inside, outside, takeout, etc.), sports, graduations, scholarships, stimulus’s, and on and on and on. The freedom to decide what is best for yourself, family, your day, your vacation, your rhythm of life, was assaulted and in some cases stolen. 

Isolation affected everyone differently. It was a break for busy families to come together, but also exposed styles of relating in close quarters. Young adults lost normal social scenes, events, and opportunities for connection. It decimated the youth, robbed them of lifetime moments and prohibited their central social needs. Educations were put on hold, transitioned home, or for some…ended.

At different moments we were afraid we might kill our elderly relatives, neighbors, and friends. The “what if’s” of how COVID spreads, who’s a carrier, and who’s susceptible, constantly assailed everyone’s relations. Information was cryptic and therefore interpreted subjectively. Then came all the possible remedies and each person’s experience of whether they worked or not. For many, there was familial pressure to get vaccinated or to not get vaccinated. Relationships have literally disintegrated over wearing masks and how you choose to comply or resist this way or that.

All of these traumas played out regardless of your choice. There has been a loss of control. Humans hate not being in control. It makes us feel…out of control.

We anesthetized all these happenings in different ways. We drank too much, ate too much, binged watched Netflix, Amazon, Disney +, etc. We remodeled our homes, or yards, or moved completely. Our kids increased their screen time and so did we. Much of the processing of our nations happenings was done in our own homes, on our phones or iPads, ranting and raving, forwarding, tiktoking, or fill in the blank. Reports of reality were being distributed between two polarized sources. The flow rate was and is so volatile, it was almost impossible to get a drink without drowning in the waters you never intended to submerged in. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but with 7.9 billion interpretations, it gets pretty muddy.

To complicate things further, our processing of these extreme changes has been incestuous. What I mean is, in our isolation we are determining truth on our own, or in our own circles. Much of the time our only “back and forth debate” is between our brain and the information on our devices. We’ve become comfortable with it (unchecked, undiscussed, conclusions). Confidence is good, but overplayed, it becomes a liability.

Technology is an advancement but it’s incurred a relational toll. It used to be unusual to see two people out to dinner, both on their phones. Not no mo! Same with the fire station. It’s how you can tell its time to clean up. When the majority of people at dinner are on their phone…it’s time to clean up. This isn’t new, it’s not a fruit of COVID, but COVID threw it into hyperdrive. Living in our cyber worlds, our thoughts and our opinions increasingly go unchecked. We used to digest them at morning lineup or over coffee. We used to seek advice from the experienced, old, or wise. Now, our search histories enforce our beliefs and opinions…alone. The divisions that were between sides have become greater in distance. 

We are losing our ability to discuss. I’m guilty of it. People are ready to fight! 

The cancel culture, which was in diapers before the pandemic, is all grown up now. We don’t have the time or patience to deal with stupid people or put another way, people who don’t agree with our truth. This was evident on Facebook towards the Stache logo this year. And as I said, I’m glad. It is the expected response. Why?

Hole in the Boat Theory. Esco folks may know this but for the rest of you, here’s the theory: We, as first responders create a membrane, a boat in which we can safely wade through all of the crap we experience in our job. People may be dying all around us, but we can paddle, joke, and laugh…safely in our boat. Our loved ones take this on as well. The problem, “the hole,” comes when we have outside traumas (sick or dying loved one, divorce, financial strain, etc.), they punch a hole in our boat, and quickly our job becomes intolerable.

Society is in trauma right now. The last two years have been a wading. Very small things are easily punching holes in people’s membranes. Our quick, concrete, reactions expose our inability to cope with the discomfort we sitting it. I’ve never sat in a boat full of crap, but I’d imagine its no fun…and memorable. We, as a society, are covered in crap. We’re uncomfortable, quick to react and to bite.

We sooner cancel, then discuss.

We mustn’t lose ourselves or our ability to communicate.

If we remain divided, we lose our American ability to be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Good brings together, Evil divides and conquers. The fruits reveal the genus.

Did you know members of Congress used to reside in DC? This was before easy transit, but the yields are telling. Even though you might spend the day in court or the capital, yelling at each other, you would go out to lunch after and talk about your lives, families, and vacations. There was relationship between differences. You weren’t arguing red against blue, you were debating with Tom or Janet, actual people, you knew, loved, and respected. That is gone. Take out the relationship, take out the humanity. 

We must enter the discomfort of reforging relationships.

Is the dynamic of relationships any different in the firehouse, hospital, precinct? How often have you heard the dirt on a fellow employee only to love them after spending a year in the trenches together? It’s the design folks. We’re not meant to be this scattered.

So, what’s the answer? The answer, I believe, is three-fold.

First: Slow down, to a human pace (not a digital one). Most humans don’t exceed 3-4 mph on their own power.

Second: We must acknowledge the trauma. Hope is good, optimism is good, but denial is the postponer of reality. Any parent of a 2020 graduate knows this. Denying the loss of prom, graduation, afterparties, lead roles in the school drama, will not heal your young ones. Grieve with them. Fight for their hearts.

I have a heroic buddy. Last year, on the day of his son’s high school graduation, they cancelled the ceremony. He put his family in the car, drove down to the school, marched into the gym and turned on the audio equipment. With family in seats, he announced and called down his son to walk, they all cheered. That is a dad who recognized the loss, and fought for it! We must do the same. Take an inventory of what you and your family has lost, acknowledge, grieve, and move toward acceptance. You might be better at it than your loved ones-lead.

Lastly: We need to focus on character again. We must create relationships with the people we associate with. I know, novel right? You might have to put down your damn cell phone at the dinner table to actually talk to each other. If we are not willing to love those we associate with, then we shouldn’t talk about them, behind their back. If their behavior is disrupting your freedom, pull them aside, face-to-face. We need to ask questions. Enter discussions curious, indifferent to our opinions in order to understand theirs. We don’t talk about them on other shifts, we don’t blast them on social media, we treat them how we want to be treated. This isn’t a new way, it’s the right way, we’ve just become lazy in our relating to each other. Our technological advances have created an elevated level of importance that is not earned, it makes us bold. Back in the day, if you said half the stuff that people say in texts or social media, you’d get your ass kicked, it was self-regulating. 

Folks, I am a hypocritical teacher on this. My favorite sins are judgment and detraction. I hate them, but I participate in them…I’m working on it. We need to put more effort in the way we treat people and we have to do it for reasons other than our own benefit. This is the frontier for humanity I believe…to stay human. Love you all. 


  1. Here’s the reality/intention behind our logo this year: it’s a Stone gargoyle, with a mask, a vaccine, and WTF hands. Take it however you want but it swings either way. It’s a marker of the last two years among many. (WTF!?) I feel like if we live in denial of what has happened and is happening, regardless of what side you’re on, the trauma doesn’t heal, it just becomes more divisive, greater chasms. 

Enjoy the shirt, it’s funny. If we can’t keep our sense of humor in this biz we’re toast.

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