This week I read an article concerning the death of Nicole Mittendorff, a 31-year-old Fairfax County firefighter. Virginia State Police officers discovered her body Thursday in Shenandoah National Park along with a suicide note. Further investigation pointed to bullying posts on the Fairfax Underground online message board in which Mittendorff was referred to as "ugly" and a "slut." It was also discovered that other women in the fire department were reportedly the targets of hateful posts on the forum.
I have often written of the power of words, positive or negative, in these weekly posts. This tragic event is a perfect illustration of the power of words and of what Tiger Shmitterndoorf’ talked about at the Oregon State Fire Corps Conference in Estacada a few weeks ago: The Fire Within the Fire Station.
I am not a fire fighter nor an EMT. I am just a chaplain. I am a chaplain because I highly value anyone who, in our rather individualistic world, considers giving time by volunteering for the community , especially one as involving as a firefighter or an EMT. I attend drill sessions and whether in a fire or in a medical situation, I am amazed at all these people who train to, at a moment’s notice, make very timely life or death decisions. When they make the right decision, they live with it, but when they make the wrong one, which can happen to anyone, they also must live with it. Anyone who voluntarily subjects him or herself to such dilemmas is worthy of praise and honor, and certainly not bullying.
In drill sessions, whether it concerns fire or medical situations outside the station, I witness all the care and training that is given to obtain the positive results of saving, and rescuing. SOP’s are carefully reviewed and updated; new equipment is meticulously introduced; personal behavior is addressed and chain of command reminded. My question is, “What about the ‘fire’ and ‘medical’ situations inside the fire station? Should we each one as individuals care to protect, save and rescue the ‘rescuers’, put out the ‘fire’, address the ‘unhealthy’ situation within the station in the same manner as we do outside the station?
I remember the story of a high-schooler who was endowed with ears shaped in such a way that many school mates called him ‘Jeep fenders’. He was known to laugh it off as a funny joke; he seemed to like the attention. But one day he stopped laughing and drew much attention, as he was discovered hanging from a rope in his bedroom.
The Good Book does compare the tongue to a fire.
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6
Should we put it out?
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