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By Jonathan Tracy

I became a firefighter because of the tragic events on September 11th, 2001. It’s a trope, I know, but that was the day I decided I would never be a victim. I was fresh out of high school, and I distinctly remember watching with horror as brave firemen rushed into those towers, only to perish as they tried to save lives. I watched hundreds of people, dazed and in shock, as they waited for help to come. I made a decision that day that in the future, regardless of circumstances, I would not be one of those shell shocked masses. I decided that I would not wait for help, but that I would be the help . . .

I started with a neighborhood CERT class that taught me basic first aid and disaster preparedness. It was eye opening, but I still felt like there was more I could do. I then joined my town’s volunteer fire department, working hard to learn the ropes, gain experience, and help wherever I could. Today I’m a Fire Service Instructor, and I take great pride in teaching some of the skills I took so long to learn myself. I thought that being a first responder had prepared me to be a source of aid, rather than a victim; and it did.


Until December 14th, 2012. That was the day a twisted, broken young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in my home state of Connecticut and opened fire. I remember the scanner radio traffic going crazy all day as police, fire, and EMS personnel scrambled to make sense of the scene. I felt the same panic that I had on 9/11; that realization that there were circumstances far beyond my control. That any day, any place, any of us could be a victim. That no matter what I knew about firefighting, I was simply unprepared to deal with individuals like Adam Lanza. And that was the day I decided to carry a gun.

I’ve been a concealed carrier for years now, and every once in awhile a friend or relative will ask how I reconcile being a first responder with carrying a tool of destruction on my hip. The simple answer is, being a fireman and carrying a gun are two sides of the same coin. I’ve made a conscious choice to be the help, rather than the victim.

I train at the firehouse like I train at the range; with the intention of having all the skills I can muster at my disposal to keep myself safe, and to help the public. That might mean pushing into a working fire, or it could mean putting the first shot into an active shooter. I pray often that those things don’t happen, but the whole point of being a firefighter (for me, at least) is to know what to do when that bad day might roll around. I’m no sheepdog, but I am a first responder. One day you might be, too.

So I encourage you to make the same choice; to be the help, instead of waiting for help. That could be as simple as taking a first aid class, or learning basic self defense. Not everyone fights fires, and not everyone carries a gun. But I do. I choose to try to save lives and help others in whatever manner I can, and I encourage you to choose that mindset as well.

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  1. So I encourage you to make the same choice; to be the help, instead of waiting for help.

    Okay, I carry every day everywhere and I’m prepared to use it.

    But there’s no way I’m running into a burning building. ‘Cause while I have balls, running into a fire requires enormous brass ones.

    Kudos to you, firefighter. Big brass kudos.

  2. Amen to that, my brother. I feel the draw… the Maltese has been calling my name for the 9 months I haven’t worn it. Time to go back soon.

    • Who needs a gun when you can carry axes around!

      Seriously, though, I’ve heard stories from old-timer cops about some times when firemen with axes saved their asses during some urban strife.

    • Listen, given the option between fighting a fire with a Beretta or a hose, water wins every time 🙂

  3. Carry on Tracy and many thanks to you Sir… I made that same determination (if you will). Your insight sincerely refreshes and strengthens that conviction…

    God Bless…

  4. On my dept ( mid sized , urban 500 FF’s ) there are a large number of gun owners / carriers , after the Safe act most of us became felons as well, so,be it .

    Carrying on the job would be mostly impractical .

    That said Its a safe bet every firehouse has some in lockers and cars , and when its a hot summer and perhaps a court verdict is due to come out , a few extra including long guns get brought to,work .

    • Could not agree more. Carrying on a call is incredibly impractical, but you’re right about FD folks in general. My chief has a backyard range, in fact 🙂

  5. Very well written, and well articulated perspective.

    I identify with your feeling of being a first responder. With the desire to always be prepared to be a responder rather than a victim.

    I’ve never gone beyond lifeguard level training and fire extinguisher training however. So big atta boy to you.

    This post made me think of two questions:
    1) do you recommend cert training?
    2) I wonder how those of us who came of age around 2001 differ from other age groups with respect to our view on gun rights….I know 9/11 really helped push me into the concealed carry clan, even if it was years later.

    • I absolutely DO recommend CERT training, especially for people with no background in public safety; it’s a fantastic way to learn some basic emergency preparedness skills, and get involved in helping your community. Great program, and it exposes you to a world of emergency services that may certainly pay off some day!

  6. I’ve been in 1 burning building. I’ve seen burning vehicles, choppers and even a c-130 going up in flames.

    Anybody who choses to run toward any of that gets my respect.

    • Much appreciated, but honestly, 90% of the job now is med calls and accidents. Senior citizens who fell down are far less scary than buildings on fire, lol.

      • Nothing worse than a shift full of overnight lift assists, fevers, and glorified taxi rides.

  7. I’m an EMT and I carry. People sometimes ask why if my job is to save lives I would carry a weapon to take them and respond that its just triage, in some situations you have to choose to let some people die to save others.

  8. Well written.

    For others – So when “something happens” are you going to dial 911 and watch or are you going to DO something? Take CPR lately (it’s changed)? Had AED training (they are everywhere)? Do you know the location of AED in your place of work, worship, kid’s school?

    A new DHS project (proving the a stopped clock IS correct on occasion) is “Stop the Bleed”. Knowing that a large % of deaths occur due to trauma/severe bleeding the idea is to train laymen and provide equipment to DO SOMETHING about it. In concept a trauma case will be next to ever AED in the country. Each case will have some throw bags with a tourniquet and packing materials. The Heart Assoc to provide similar training to layman as CPR/AED training. Has been rather slow getting off the ground. Heart Assoc still has not put out the training package. Right now what is needed is a stop PULL effort demanding the training (and the Certificate process).
    Also a good range aid pkg.

    NRA really should sign on to this project.

    Vol Fire Chief here.
    “What did you do?” “I called 911 and then recorded in on my cell phone so I could sell it to the local TV station”. = Shove that damn cell phone…. You didn’t do ANYTHING.

    • Doing what need to be done is neither heroic, or even a big deal.

      Pulling someone from a burning vehicle, saving someone who is drowning. doing CPR on a cardiac victim, these are merely events in the life of those prepared. It mean nothing to me, and it should mean nothing to you. They ar e but slightly abnormal events in the life of those who do.

      They matter to the victim, but to the doer of deeds. They are merely doing what any reasonable person would do. And expect no accolades for dong so.

  9. Egads, what a bunch of boot-kissing for doing a job.

    I did my FF1 many decades ago, I’m still current on CPR, and I have blood-clotter and a variety of other first-aid things with me (or in my car) all the time. EDC. Whoopty-frakkin’-do. 10 days a month of mostly dumpster fires and fat effs who are ready to die for their lifestyle choices didn’t excite me. Don’t get me wrong, serving others (while being paid very well) is a noble profession, but it’s hardly heroic.

    So. Effen. What. It isn’t dangerous according to the actual BLS facts. So please, I get that you ‘need’ a new boat for your vacation home, but your pathetic whining is not gonna get my vote for the property tax increase you really need “for our safety”. You make a healthy income for doing what you do, especially compared to the average American, who pays your salary.

    • Exactly..there are still more volunteer or paid on call type dept than most realize. Many do the job for little pay if any.

  10. I did fire fighting as a trainee ships Capt having been a soldier who served in the middle east. I too have seen both sides of the coin. The scum of this world, and they are few. rely on good men to do nothing

    You’re bang on the money Bro’, in the words of a great president, “walk softly but carry a big stick”.
    I carry too, who knows, I may never need it, but if I do……………………

  11. It’s just like being a weather man. You need some firepower.

    Fire in a structure out of control? Put some lead downrange and show it who is boss.

    Just like being a weather forecaster. Hurricane coming? Get out the 12 gauge and put some holes in that sumbitch for great golf weather.

  12. Well my Truck runs less then 30% ems, trucks have smaller ems districts then engines, so,we’re free for the big boy calls . Just joking , kinda of ….

    Being on the East Coast helps as well, older buildings built before modern fire codes, basements ,attics, large houses chopped up into apartments and so on.

    Stay low.

  13. Volunteer firemen for 30 yr’s CCW for 36 yr’s Yes I carried on all calls and interior attack. J frame smith.
    Leather forever!!

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