#075: Boston Firefighters Local 718 – President Sam Dillon & Tower Ladder 10

Sunday September 11, 2022

For over 344 years the Boston fire department has led America and set the example for excellence, standards and service to others. Boston’s firefighters are supported and empowered by Local 718, the Boston firefighter’s union. For this 9/11 special edition episode, Fran Racioppi goes home to Boston to sit down with a group who know no other mission than to preserve and protect life.

Fran spends part one of the episode with newly elected President of Local 718 Sam Dillon discussing his service in the US Marines, why his three pillars of Solidarity, Advocacy, and Respect are essential to the next generation of firefighter and the mental health of first responders. 

In the post 9/11 world, the Boston Fire Department maintains one of the strongest Veteran communities in the country. In part two Fran and Sam are joined by fellow Veterans turned Boston firefighters Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart-Shor for a discussion on what it means to serve their country, and now their city, no matter the challenge. 

Learn more about the Local 718 and the Boston Fire Department and follow them on social media @bostonfirefighters.

Read the full episode transcription here and learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Check out the full video version on YouTube.
TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

Listen to the podcast here


Boston Firefighters Local 718 – President Sam Dillon & Tower Ladder 10

Some people serve others, no matter what. In 1631, Boston became the first city in the new world to install a fire ordinance. In 1678, Boston became the first fire department in the nation. In 1678, we didn’t even have a nation. For over 344 years, the Boston Fire Department has led America and set the example for excellence, standards and service to others. Boston’s firefighters are supported and empowered by the Boston Firefighters Union Local 718.

For the September 11th special edition episode, I went home to Boston to sit down with a group of Bostonians who know no other mission than to preserve and protect life. I’m not going to lie. This is a Boston-strong episode as I sit down with a few of my good friends, fellow veterans, Boston natives and then Boston firefighters.TJP E75 - Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

First, I sat down with the newly elected President of Local 718 Sam Dillon. He served as a Marine, spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Purple Heart after being shot in the chest. He rose through the ranks as the department battled COVID immunization requirements and lockdowns while still being called daily to serve the city and its citizens. Sam and I discussed the effects of the mayor’s COVID requirements on the department. Why the three pillars of solidarity, advocacy and respect are essential to the next generation of Boston firefighters? Also, the mental health challenges first responders face every single day on the job.

In the post-9/11 world, the Boston Fire Department maintains one of the strongest veteran communities in the country. To continue our conversation about service and comradery, I asked a few more to join Sam and me for a roundtable discussion on getting the job done in the global war on terror and back home in the streets of Boston. Greg Kelly comes from a long line of Boston firefighters and retired from the Army after distinguished careers at Green Beret and the Special Forces.

Tony McDonagh served in the infantry. He was one of my first friends in the Army. He runs a construction company in Boston and has been in the department since he left service. Finally, Josh Stuart-Shor continues his service after his time leading special operators as a Green Beret and being wounded in combat. There’s not much this group hasn’t seen and there’s almost nothing they’re unwilling to do when the bell rings and the sirens blast. Some of that happened at least six times in the few hours I was with them. These are men who used to run towards the sound of gunfire. Now, they run towards burning buildings.

We’re taught as kids to respect and honor those who run towards chaos and danger to protect others. As adults, we often forget that humanity and kindness still exist in this world. When I left Egleston Square and the patriots of Tower Ladder 10 and Engine 42, I remembered that most heroes don’t save lives in far-off lands. Most heroes save lives on the streets of America day in and day out. Watch the full video version of my conversation with Sam, Greg, Tony and Josh on YouTube. Subscribe to us and follow @JedburghPodcast on all social media. Check out our website at Learn more about Local 718 and the Boston Fire Department at Also, follow them on social media @BostonFirefighters.

Sam, welcome to the show.

I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

It’s an absolute honor to be here at the Egleston Square Firehouse, the newest firehouse in the Boston Fire Department. The Technical Rescue Task Force operates out of here. That’s going to about 4,000 incidents a year. That’s a tremendous amount of volume in District 9 and Division 2. The guys were out when we first got here. There’s some trickling back but we have to put out two things. Let’s start with the union, Local 718. You have sworn in office on June 16th, 2022. You’ve been in the department since 2013. You served prior as an Honor Guard, a House Steward and an Executive Board Representative. What is Local 718? What do they do for the department?

Firefighters are this city’s lifeline and this union is the lifeline for firefighters and their families. We advocate for the people who do this very dangerous job. You need strong advocacy for people who do dangerous jobs like this. It’s not just for them, it’s for their families. Every time that a Boston firefighter goes to work, there’s a very real chance that they might not come home and along the way, their health is going to suffer, mental and physical.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“Firefighters are this city’s lifeline; and this union…it’s the lifeline for firefighters and their families.”

We talked about how active this firehouse is. Every time they go out the door, they don’t know what they’re going to encounter. You have to have an organization dedicated to advocating for people who do a job like that. Benefits, salaries, contracts, working conditions and health are what Local 718 is. It’s the family that represents our family as firefighters.

We’re talking about 2,000 people.

We have about 1,600 active members and over 1,000 retirees.

Why run for president?

It wasn’t on my radar. First of all, I was happy to be a Boston firefighter. It’s my lifelong ambition. As my career progressed, I saw the importance of the union so I started getting involved. I never imagined myself running for union president. I always saw myself as someone who would volunteer to help out. I’m a behind-the-scenes guy or a mission-specific guy. What changed my mind was we were coming up on a union election and it was the people that approached me, the firefighters that I worked with and their families. When I talk about family, it’s this job and profession. We are a family.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“When I came on this job I was just happy to be a Boston firefighter…my life long ambition.”

I spend more time with my brother and sister firefighters, unfortunately, than I do with my family. When your family comes to you with something, it means something. Also, to have the people who know me best, the people who can anticipate my actions in a firehouse and my life when they know what I’m about. When you have them come to you and say, “We want you to be a leader in our organization and our advocate,” that’s something you have to give a lot of thought and consideration to.

That’s what happened. I gave it a thought and consideration. I talked to my family outside of the firehouse and it made sense. This goes back from the military to the firehouse. When you’re someone who believes in taking action and standing up for the things you believe in and the people that you believe in, you don’t always get to pick your time. Sometimes your time picks you. I happened to be the right person in the right situation to take a shot at this and see what I could get done.

[bctt tweet=”Firefighters are this city’s lifeline and this union is the lifeline for firefighters and their families. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

Let’s talk for a second about the institution of the Boston Fire Department because it’s important. I did some history. 1631 was the first fire ordinance in Boston. 1653 was the first fire engine. I call it an engine but I don’t think we had engines back then. In 1678, the first fire department was established with the first Chief, Thomas Atkins. In 1799, the first leather fire hoses are imported from England but there’s one part that I have to call out that’s on the website that’s missing. It’s this whole piece right around 1776 when a lot of Boston firefighters also defeated at that point, the best military in the world in the American Revolution. If I had to go back, I would say that probably a lot of firefighters were on that mission.

In the 1870s, steam engines, trucks, ladders, Industrial Revolution, alarms and then real fire regulation started to come into play. 1914 was the first selection process that gets built for firefighters to come into the department. I want to ask about that selection process but before we do that, I want to throw out some stuff. We talked about the scale of this firehouse but it’s important. 75,000 annual calls and a $200 million annual budget. We talked about 2,000 firefighters, 33 engine companies, 20 ladder companies, 2 tower ladders, Marine unit, Safety Division, Special Operations Command, hazardous materials, decontamination unit, technical rescue support and 1 collapse unit. Tremendous amounts are going on. Talk to me first about when I go through this, what do you feel?

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“Boston was at the forefront of America; and Boston firefighters are at the forefront of firefighting.”

I felt pride. Boston was at the forefront of America and Boston firefighters are at the forefront of firefighting. We’re a very historic department. Based on our traditions, we take a lot of pride in them and we rely on them to set the example and set the bar for how professional fire departments should conduct business. We’re a very aggressive department. We are not afraid by any means to conduct aggressive interior attacks, aggressive search and rescue or aggressive fire suppression operations. We’re a unique city with a very dense population, old buildings and infrastructure. It’s very susceptible to critical incidents and damage from fire.

We’re firefighters by name and trade but we’re also America’s problem solvers. We’re Boston’s lifeline and problem solvers. You mentioned hazardous materials, building collapses, technical rescues and water rescues. If it’s happening in the city and to a resident of the city, we are going to respond and mitigate that situation. I take a tremendous amount of pride in that, not only as a Union President to represent every member who rides apparatus on those various companies but as a firefighter, to be a part of that. I have immense pride in being the President of this union but I have even more pride in being a boss and firefighter. That’s what I am first and what’s at the core of me.

The city is unique too because when you think about the city, it’s like a small town in some ways. It represents itself as a city but when you think about the United States on a global scale, everybody knows Boston. You come here and you’re like, “I can walk from one side of Boston to the other in a couple of hours.”

We look at everything that we cram into Boston. Walk fifteen minutes down the road from this firehouse and you have high rises. Walk fifteen minutes in another direction, you have densely populated wood-frame residences. This fire department is responsible for all of that. To be a successful Boston firefighter, you have to be a master of your craft and trade.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“You don’t always get to pick your time. Sometimes your time picks you.”

You have to know how to fight a high-rise fire at 9:00 in the morning, fight a three-decker fire at 3:00 in the afternoon and around midnight or 1:00 AM, and go to a complex technical rescue like ropes and water. This firehouse alone encompasses all of that in a single 24-hour tour. That’s a lot to take in. We have a lot of pride in that.

Also, lives are depending on that.

Our lives but more importantly, the lives of the citizens of Boston.

A goal that you set when you took this job was to get into the firehouses in Union Hall and never miss an opportunity to interact with the membership. It’s not about telling the membership what you want, it’s about listening to what they want and then providing the leadership and guidance that’s going to get them there. Why is that so important?

It’s because I don’t have all the answers. Whether I have this job for 2 years or 10 years, I’m never going to have all the answers but someone in our membership does. The strength of this union is its membership. The things that I don’t know, someone else does. If I can’t find somebody with the answer, we’re going to bring everybody in, have a conversation about it and bounce ideas off of each other. We’re probably not going to agree but that’s how you create viable solutions.

I can’t paint on this but because I believe in it, the strength of this union is its membership. I’m very fortunate. You need passion and leadership but you need passion and membership. How lucky am I? My membership runs into burning buildings for a living. They put their lives on the line every single day. They believe in it and enjoy it. It’s difficult but this is what they were called to. Do you want to talk about passion? They’re passionate individuals and they approach this union with the same passion that they run into a burning building with. That’s fantastic. If you have a membership like that, there’s nothing that we can accomplish as a union.

You do it for each other. Think back to law enforcement, the fire department and your time in the military. I work with organizations on building their teams in the corporate sector. It’s a lot of similar principles but very different people. One of the things that I say to a lot of organizations is that I come from a place where we’d go out on a mission. I’m willing to sacrifice my life for the guy next to me and I might not even like that guy. We’ve had guys that we knew were getting kicked off the team the next week who are not star performers. You didn’t like their face for whatever reason but you were willing to take a bullet for those people any day of the week.

It’s not about you or them. It’s about being integral to something that you all believe is more important than yourself.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“Mission, team, self…in that order.”

The mission stands above everything.

Mission, team and self, in that order. You might not like the person that you’re on the mission or the team with at that time but you have to respect them because by respecting them, you respect that mission and team. You know that’s what you need to do to accomplish that mission and keep that team together.

We talk a lot on the show about these characteristics or performances that are used by Special Operations Command. Specifically, there are nine of them. It’s used to recruit and assess talent. Strength, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, team ability, effective intelligence and emotional strength. What are you looking for out of the firefighters that come in, apply and try out to come into the department? What’s that selection process look like?

Who do I want to see as fellow Boston firefighters? Number one, you have to want this job and I shouldn’t even call it a job. You have to genuinely believe at some level that you were called to do this. If you don’t, that’s okay but understand that eventually, that’s going to get exposed as is the case with any high-stress and high-stakes profession. We are willing to lose our lives for each other and the City of Boston for no other reason than they are involved in a situation that we’re responsible for and it is their life above us.

That supersedes a paycheck, benefits or any accolades that may come with this job. You have to, at some level, believe that you were called upon to be a Boston firefighter. Number one, that’s who I want to be alongside me. Number two, be passionate and dedicated. Everyone should have it in their mind. I’m not becoming a Boston firefighter to ride a firetruck. I’m becoming a Boston firefighter because I want to be the best boss and firefighter that I can be. I want to save lives and prevent the loss of property. You have to have the drive. That’s whom I want next to me and my membership.

What’s that selection process look like?

[bctt tweet=”When you’re someone who believes in taking action, in standing up for the things and the people that you believe in, you don’t always get to pick your time. Sometimes your time picks you. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

We have an open competitive civil service exam offered to the public. I believe it’s every year. It’s written tests, physical abilities tests and combined raw scores. The State Commission produces a hiring list that gets kicked over to the city and the department. We bring candidates in for interviews. They whittle that down off the eligibility list and then you go to the academy. We have a 6 or 7-month training academy.

It’s a grind Monday through Friday. They try to cover all the bases. You’ve got a fundamental amount of knowledge and training in fire suppression, search and rescue and different things that we do but only basic in the military. That’s entry-level. If you stop learning when you leave the academy, you’re not going to be here very long. It’s not going to work because you’re not going to be able to cut it and be good at your job.

Have you heard of FitFighter?

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“We are firefighters by name. We are firefighters by trade. But we are also America’s problem solvers.”


We had Sarah Apgar on. She was in the Army. She got out and started this. She was a volunteer firefighter on Long Island. She’s big into fitness and realized that the training they were doing wasn’t what you do once you’re out in the field. She took these pieces of hose and then started filling them with different components of sand and different things. She created different sizes of them so that you can work out with these different lengths of hose.

She developed these entire workout programs for it. It’s called FitFighter and then she went on Shark Tank. She won Shark Tank and Daniel Lubetzky, who’s the Founder of KIND bars picked her up. She’s working with fire departments all over the country. They bring these different components of hoses and they got all these workouts.

Functional fitness or training is essential to what we do. This training is being modernized. Human performance is being modernized. Why not apply that to the fire service and to what we do to sharpen the knife a little bit making ourselves even more capable to do our jobs?

She was great. I did a workout with her after we did the episode. It’s on YouTube. Your election to president of the union represents a bit of a changing of the guard. In this new generation, I asked about the recruiting and the selection process to come in but a lot of veterans out of the military I’ve come in over the last many years in the fire department.

We are very proud of it.

What’s the number? I don’t know if you have a percentage.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“We are willing to lose our lives for each other. We are willing to lose our lives for the city of Boston.”

The percentage of veterans is very high.

With your election, the older generation has passed that on to you. Why is that important for the department, first off? Second, what do you learn from those guys? What are the opportunities that you take forward? What are you looking for?

First off, what do I learn from those who came before me? Everything. They wrote the book. They were very successful and passionate, especially coming out of Local 718 and the Massachusetts area. As far as labor leaders go and labor leaders within the public safety unions, I got some incredibly big shoes to fill. It’s not a changing of God. It’s the passing of the torch because it’s not new versus old or young versus old. It’s a natural progression of things but I have a responsibility to know the history of this union and the leaders that came before me and look at what they did. Also, build on their successes.

If that older God hadn’t been as dedicated and passionate as they were, I’m not sitting here. I wouldn’t have a job as a Boston firefighter and there would be no union for me to ever run for president. I have the utmost respect in the world for everybody who came before me. They’re the first calls that I make on a lot of issues but I also have a responsibility to the entire membership so then I make other calls. I call people younger than me and my peers. We are trying to build a dynamic leadership much like the fire service. There are a lot of things that we’ve done since the 1600s. We don’t do them because that’s how it is. We do it because it works. You can’t be afraid to stand on what works but you also can’t be afraid to try new things.

Let’s talk about the Marine Corps. You graduated high school and went right into the Marine Corps.

It was on September 11th, 2005.

I told you this is going to be our 9/11 episode. When Tony talked to me about coming to talk to you, I called him back ten minutes after we got off the phone. I instantly said, “Yes.” He’s like, “Let me know the dates.” I was going through my head driving in the car and going home from here. I was like, “This is the 9/11 episode.” Greg’s over there. He and I have been talking for a while on and off and so was Josh. We’ve been screaming.

Greg’s ears perked up when you said Marine Corps.

He woke up over there. That’s what happened. The Sergeant Major is over there going, “You’re always being assessed.” That’s what he’s saying to himself over there. I was like, “This has to be the 9/11 episode.” When we bring these guys in, that impacted this city. New York was Ground Zero of this thing but the planes emanated from here. The city was impacted. We were all here in some fashion. 9/11 puts you in. What was the call to service?

My lifelong goal was to be a Boston firefighter. I was going to become a Boston firefighter no matter what. I’ve always thought about joining the military. I had friends and family members who were veterans. I always had the utmost respect for them but it does come back to 9/11. During the attack on this country, that day, I decided that I was going to join the Marine Corps. I wanted to be infantry and go and fight.

[bctt tweet=”You can’t be afraid to stand on what works, but you also can’t be afraid to try new things.” username=”talentwargroup”]

There were enemies of this nation that delivered violence upon this country on our fellow Americans and our way of life. When you are someone who can do something about a situation and you find yourself in that situation, it is incumbent on you as a human and as an American to take action. You cannot sit idly by when your country and way of life are attacked. It needs to be answered for and confronted.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“You cannot sit idly by when your country and your way of life is attacked.”

You spent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and got shot in the chest. What happened?

I zigged when I should have zagged. They caught me sleeping on that one. I was in Marjah, Afghanistan. I was a section leader for a partner and mentor team. We were involved with training local nationals to be Afghan police officers and soldiers. The forward operating base that we’re out of had been under attack. We punched out some Marine patrols and they got caught up in it and pinned down. We went out with our team of Afghans to provide some reaction. We ended up getting caught up in it too. It’s funny. Sometimes people know I got hurt and they’re like, “You’re so unlucky.” You get the worst luck in the world. I have the best luck in the world because I’m still sitting here.

The person responsible is not doing a show or much of anything. I take pride in what happened to me. I think about it every single day because you get into leadership and advocacy for the people around you. The guys in this room have gotten me out of fires that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten out of and that was all born from somebody trying to take my life.

Had it not been for the Marines around me, they probably would have succeeded. I owe my life to other people directly. I spent a couple of years trying to put that out of my head and then it’s like, “That’s never changing. Embrace that. Be someone that other people can put their lives in your hands. That’s how you give back and make right anything that happened over there.”

That’s so important. We talk about mental health and embracing these experiences that we’ve had. Sometimes, it becomes easier to do that and move on than trying to put it back. You took your Purple Heart down to Ground Zero when you got back. I watched the video. Why did you do that?

I joined the Marines because of 9/11. It was a defining moment in my life. It’s not that I felt uncomfortable having a Purple Heart. That’s not a medal on my chest. I carry that somewhere else and I felt that’s where it needed to be. It’s difficult to explain but bringing it down there brought a lot of things full circle. People punched a hole right in the middle of Ground Zero and this country. For me, bringing that down there filled in that hole a little bit. It was like, “My countrymen and I fought back. We went over there and took it to task for what you did. We’re still here. We’re back. There’s an even bigger tower. Nice try.”

I want to ask about the transition coming out of the Marine Corps. How was it?

It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, the deployments. From the minute you come home, you’re always going to be transitioning back towards civilian life. The issue is civilian life as we know it, as veterans, is never going to be what it was before we entered the service. I went through the progression and the phases. I was angry and lonely. You try to chase like, “I want things to be the way that they were.” That doesn’t fly just to veterans. Things aren’t the way they are. Things are different than they were minutes ago.

Life has changed. Things are never going to go back to the way they were and that’s okay but you have to accept it. You have to confront the fact that you are permanently changed by things that you did and things that were done to you. If you spend the rest of your life trying to erase them, those things are eventually going to erase you. Take it on. If you’ve made mistakes and you had things done to you, embrace it because you are still here and you have a responsibility to the others who aren’t to be the best version, the best veteran, the best firefighter and the best person that you can be.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“If you spend the rest of your life trying to erase them, those things are eventually just gonna erase you.”

You talk about change. The last several years have created monumental change in the world and here in Boston. A lot of it is due to the COVID pandemic. The Greater New England area as everyone was, was pretty well affected but we also were very strict in a lot of the protocols that were put in place by local state governments, as opposed to Florida and Texas. I went to Florida for a couple of minutes during COVID and they’re like, “What’s COVID?” “Go up North and they’ll you what it is.” They shut the city down in so many ways but when you look at the fire department, medical response and law enforcement, those calls rose.

Not to correct you but it shut Boston down but not the Boston Fire Department.

How did that impact the department?

It was a lot. Our call volume increased and it was the unknown. I go back to, “Firefighters by name, problem-solvers by trade.” It was like, “This is something new and scary to us, the general public and our lifetime.” We didn’t know what was going on but we did know that we had to respond because the day that COVID hit, people started calling 9-1-1 about it. “We can figure this out and educate ourselves as we go but there’s a resident of this city. Someone’s calling 9-1-1 and we’re on the other end of the line. Get up and respond and do what you have to do because that’s what we do.”

It was very taxing on the fire department, our union membership and a borderline already overtaxed system. We don’t have the manpower that we need. We always need additional resources. We’re throwing something as massive as a pandemic into that but through it all, our people rose to the occasion. They did what Boston firefighters and Local 718 members do. They had a challenge delivered to them. They assessed it, went right back and said, “What do we have to do? Let’s go get the job done.”

You also got thrown a challenge by the mayor. You were put in a situation where you had a vaccine mandate put in place. If you didn’t comply, guys were going to lose their job. Firefighters and good people out there doing the right thing are going to lose their job for not meeting that mandate. You’re still working through some of the ramifications of that. Nobody lost their job. They’re still here, which is a good thing.

It is where we and this city need them to be.

How has it changed the department?

We’re still dealing with the effects of COVID and the aftermath of some of the mandate issues. COVID is still out there. We still respond to 9-1-1 calls where people have COVID. We’re confident that it’s going to continue to go in the right direction but it’s still out there. The mandate issue was very detrimental to the morale of our membership. It’s unfortunate because the global pandemic of COVID was unprecedented but in a situation like this, this isn’t unprecedented where we were needed.

Between us, the police and Boston EMS, in terms of being out on the street, we were the frontline and this city needed us. We were there. After the fact, when you could see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re going to get through this. Maybe we weren’t considered as essential anymore. Maybe we weren’t afforded that respect. There are still lingering effects of that. We talked about a younger job. For a lot of guys on the job, this younger generation, this was their first experience of what it feels like to make it through the end, to be called upon, respond and do what you need to do.

[bctt tweet=”You cannot sit idly by when your country and your way of life are attacked. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’d say above and beyond what you need to do.

As far as above and beyond goes, that’s where we operate because there is no limit to what we’ll do for people and this city. When it comes to the respect pot, I demand that that be respected. My job as the President of this union is to remind people that there is nothing that we won’t do for this city and all we ask for in return is the proper and fair treatment and respect. Not that we say that we deserve but the respect that we go out and earn every single day.

Let’s talk about it because you went there. You have three pillars that you’re focused on as you’ve assumed this role solidarity, advocacy and respect. You brought up respect. This is a big deal. The respect that is given by society to law enforcement, police, firefighters and general law and regulation is probably at the lowest it’s ever been in my lifetime and yet, you have to go out there every single day and continue to execute this job the way that you said it. How do you motivate the department?

I motivate my members by reminding them who they are and to always remind themselves that no matter what anyone says and does, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you are right. You’re a firefighter. You’re going out there doing whatever it takes to help people. We’re open to criticism. Sometimes it’s warranted but at the end of the day, we’re putting our lives on the line for our city and the people who live here. You are in the right by doing that. If people have issues with that, that’s on them. When I talk about earning respect, we don’t get into it with people. We go and help the people who are criticizing us because that’s what we do.TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

I want to ask about solidarity. It’s the first one on that list. You noted that solidarity was critical to the future success of the department. Solidarity with each other, other first responders, law enforcement and the city elected officials themselves. We interviewed in episode 44, Patrick Murphy. The Congressman was the Undersecretary of the Army for some time. I asked him how he bridged the political divide. He said, “You can disagree but you cannot be disagreeable.”

That’s a fantastic approach and it’s true. As a labor organization, our relationship with management and the city is guaranteed that there are going to be periods of disagreement and friction but most importantly, that relationship can’t be defined by that. My approach to the political aspect is at the end of the day, we talk about a foundation. We’re both here for similar reasons. We both serve the citizens of this city.

We may go about it in different ways but we’re bound by that service. We’re going to disagree with each other on specific issues but whatever that disagreement may be, as soon as it’s resolved, we go back to the center and the foundation of, “You were elected to serve the citizens of the city. I’m a firefighter. I was called to serve the citizens of this city. Let’s start from a place of mutual respect and a mutual foundation.”

I don’t take it personally. I hope they don’t take it personally because you can’t. When you start taking things personally, especially in something like politics, you’re doing a disservice to everybody because you’re allowing your ego. With mission, team and self, you’re putting yourself at the top of the list. Local 718 firefighters never put themselves ahead of the city. We have a hard time understanding why anybody else would either.

Advocacy was the third piece. To be an advocate, it has to be done professionally and on behalf of them in their families, them being the members themselves.

Other than my immediate family, I view this membership as my family. I have a tremendous responsibility to them and my mission is to advocate on their behalf. I need to do it professionally and effectively. It’s not about what I want. I know what I want for this union and what I think will make this union successful but at the end of the day, I’m a conduit for my members. They’re in the firehouse dealing with the day-to-day stresses of being a provider for their family, a husband, a father, a mother and a firefighter. They don’t have the time to worry about advocating for their profession. They’re doing their profession. It’s my job to get out there and fight for them on their behalf.

Can I read you something? It’s a little bit long but I’m going to do it because it’s important. “I didn’t enjoy writing tickets but you didn’t know. I cried when I found your daughter lying in a ditch high on meth but you didn’t know. I was devastated when I found out a 32-year-old veteran died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound but you didn’t know. I missed my kids’ birthdays, school plays and family trips because I had to work but you didn’t know.”

“I had nightmares about the two-year-old I found crushed under a truck tire while mom was inside buying dope but you didn’t know. I struggled with every death notification I made to a family about their loved one but you didn’t know. I was never comfortable at social gatherings because, with the things I’ve seen, I can’t trust anyone but you didn’t know. I’ve seen things you can never even imagine but you didn’t know. I didn’t like putting people in jail but you didn’t know. My job was hard on my family but you didn’t know. I had problems like everyone else but you didn’t know.” This was a letter that was written by a first responder and posted on some social media platforms.

That’s powerful and it’s the truth.

We quantify mental health in a variety of different ways. We have a lot of conversations on the show about it. We’ve talked about Operator Syndrome with Dr. Chris Frueh. In terms of the operator syndrome, it is this effect on the body and your psyche mentally and physically when you’re put under stress. The duration of that stress is not a year. It’s 20 or 30 years.

We talked to General Peter Chiarelli, former Vice Chief of the Army. He talks about the stigma behind PTSD and what happens, not in the 1 or 2 incidents but when you break down because this is your job. We were in the military. We were fortunate. You were combat wounded but I deployed five times. He had a start date, an end date and then went home.

If you thought about it long enough, you’ll leave it there. A lot of us still think like that but the guys who operate here in this firehouse, the law enforcement and first responders, this is their life. They wake up every morning, come here and do these things. They go home and do that for 10, 20, or 30 years. What’s that effect?

You touched on something that never hit me until you said it. You can leave it over there because it happened half a world away in almost an alternate lifetime. Our strength is our connection to our city but this is our area of operations. You have a traumatic call and that could be in your neighborhood. A lot of us live in the neighborhoods we work. I never thought of it this way but I’m trying to imagine what it would be like. Would I be able to have the same positive mental attitude about what happened to me if every morning I drove to work and drove past the street corner where I got shot in Afghanistan?TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

There’s a layer to that. This isn’t just where we work and operate. This is where we live and get our strength because we’re defending our neighborhoods and protecting our city but we’re seeing it every day. You talked about deployments. You have a start date and an end date. There’s decompression. We work 24-hour rotations. Maybe those are many deployments but there’s no start and end date for that. You go to work for 24 hours at a clip. What you encountered during that time is what you encounter. You then leave the firehouse and then go home to encounter whatever you encounter there. Maybe there are some issues there that you need to process.

As soon as you get into the time to do that, it’s not going go back into the firehouse. In the timeline, you talked about 10, 20 or 30 years. That’s a long time to be doing this and the worst type of interest is compounding interest. It’s compounding against us on a day-to-day basis. The stress and its effects of it are building up. It’s something that I plan on taking head-on as a union leader. When I talk about advocacy, we have to advocate for the mental health of our firefighters and all first responders.

The public takes it for granted and that’s why when we talk about respect, when I was reading about this and the things that you’re seeking to achieve, respect ties into so many things. That’s why I read you this quote too. It’s the second part of each one of those statements, “But you didn’t know.” We’re sitting here, looking out the window and watching people walk by. When we go out there, some people walk by this firehouse every day. How many of them look through the bay doors and put themselves in the shoe of the person who is sitting in here?

[bctt tweet=”“Firefighters by name, problem-solvers by trade.”” username=”talentwargroup”]

When we look at society, we live such a fast-paced lifestyle. Socially, many people know there’s a firehouse here. It’s not their fault but it’s an office building to them. As you pass by an office, you pass by a sub shop and the firehouse. It’s like, “That’s my neighborhood firehouse. That’s where it is.” Our membership is very humble. They’re quiet professionals. It’s my job to tell some of our stories and keep the general public and elected officials mindful of how lucky they are to have Local 718 Boston firefighters keeping an eye on things and protecting this city.

We talked about veterans coming home. A lot of veterans get frustrated because people don’t get it and that means that you did your job. I had an issue. I was mad at my family because I was like, “You don’t know what it’s like.” It then hit me one day, “I went to war so my family would never know what war is like. I can’t get mad at them for not knowing because that means I did my job.” People don’t understand what the fire department does. Good for them because that means they’ve never had a tragic day in their life or an emergency but I guarantee you that on that day if they do, we will be right there.

They say we can learn a lot from our kids.

I have a son. I’m learning a lot from him.

You are in full learning mode. That doesn’t end though. I got children and it seems like learning is very different. There is a wide spectrum of learning. We are very much like this neighborhood. The firehouse sits downtown and every time we drive by, he waves. As I’m getting ready to come, sit with you and talk to you, it starts to sink in. In this conversation, you think that society could learn from the 2, 3 and 4-year-old kids who walk by the firehouse, wave to the firefighters and are interested in what they’re doing because they love what they see. Everybody should think like babies.

Babies and dogs never lie. I’ve yet to meet a young child or a dog that didn’t love firefighters. From a labor and political standpoint, I wish every elected official in this city looked at the fire department the same way a five-year-old kid does. At our core, this is a very pure profession. What do we exist to do? It’s to help people. That’s what we do. Whether it be putting out a fire, getting a cat out of a tree or putting air in their bike tire.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“What do we exist to do? Help People. That’s what we do.”

What do you do for a living? “I help people.” I go to work for 24 hours at a time. If someone is scared, sick or in danger, they call. We answer and go. Kids pick up on that. They haven’t been clouded by life, politics, social media and all of that. They probably see us more than anybody for who we are and what we’re about.

We did an episode with Eric McNulty. He is the Associate Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard University. He wrote a book called You’re It: Crisis, Change and How to Lead When It Matters Most. The core principles of the book are around this concept of meta-leadership. Meta-leadership is the ability to lead down, up, across and beyond to organizations that affect yours. Your role and what you’ve taken on define this meta-leadership. It’s also important that in the book and my conversation with Eric, we talked about the Boston Marathon bombing and the response that happened there.

You have this concept of meta-leadership but then also in the Boston Marathon response, there was no defined leader. When they did the after-action review and brought all the leaders of all the various law enforcement and first responders including the FBI and everyone, the first question that they asked at NPLI was, “Who was in charge?” Everybody looked around and said, “I have no idea who was in charge.”

Even the governor and the mayor had the same response but what they credited that too was this concept of swarm leadership but it was the fact that everyone in Boston is so close and all those leaders had been in their positions for so long. They had developed such tight relationships that when the crisis struck, there was no confusion about who operated in what lane, what responsibilities were whose and everybody coalesced.

There was chaos for the five or so days. They responded exactly how each one of their organizations was supposed to, which is odd, in crisis response. Think about You’re It. You have to display this concept of meta-leadership. What goes in your mind as you have to focus on building these relationships down, up, across and beyond? How do you approach it?

Continue to do what we’ve been doing as a team, which is putting ourselves out there. We’re not going to be insular and isolated like, “We’re the firefighter union. That’s all that we do. If you’re not a firefighter, I’m not talking to you.” No. The doors are wide open for business. Come down and talk to us. Invite us over and we’ll talk to you. We need to liaise and network with everyone that’s out there because every agency in this city, regardless of whether they’re public safety or not, could potentially have an indirect or direct impact on firefighters and their families.

The first time you’re ever having that face-to-face and having conversation shouldn’t be when shit hits the fan. It should be like the guys in this room. If the first time we ever talked to each other about what we were going to do at a fire was when we showed up at a fire, that fire is not going to go very well. It starts with a normal conversation. “Let’s talk about our families, friendships and views on things before we get into the nitty-gritty of what we’re going to do when crisis strikes.” That way, it’s like, “I know he’s a great cop or politician but I also know he’s a family man, a loyal friend, where he went to high school and how he feels about certain issues.” It allows you to anticipate how people are going to respond and the decisions that they’re going to make.

That relationship building is front and center for you.TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

It’s a great opportunity. I’m a newly-elected Union President. We have a relatively newly-elected mayor, newly-elected city councilors, newly-appointed police chief and fire commissioner. Everyone talked about passing the torch. It seems like every major organization in the City of Boston decided to pass the torch right around the same time. Some people are concerned that it could lead to chaos. I’m confident that that’s going to lead to success because there shouldn’t be any posturing or talking down to anybody. It’s like, “You’re new in your role. That’s awesome. Let’s talk about that because I’m new in my role.” Let’s start building this relationship from the ground up so that we can avoid some conflict and crisis but we know that if that should happen, we’re going to be able to work together.

That’s the attitude that’s going to continue to move it forward. What we’re going to do is bring these other guys in here. We’re going to talk about a couple of things like a commitment to service, a lifetime of service and their stories. Let’s go.

Tony, Josh and Greg, welcome to the show. Thank you for jumping in here with us. You’ve been in the background while Sam and I have been talking and I appreciate the good behavior. I’ve logged four calls since we started coming out of the firehouse. We’ve been talking about doing this for a little bit and I thought it would be important to have you in here. Each one of us has a different relationship. For Tony, we go back many years. He was my first friend in the Army. We were in The Infantry Officer Basic Course together. We were standing in a formation and it was day one. They’re like, “Where are you from?” You have to go around and no one’s from Boston, at least, many years ago.TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

I’m like, “I’m from Boston.” He was behind me and he’s like, “I’m from Boston.” I was like, “We can become best friends. Where do you live?” He’s like, “I live in Johnston Mill Lofts.” I’m like, “I live in Johnston Mill Lofts.” We started our bromance. He graduated Ranger school on a Friday and flew to my wedding that night and was there on Saturday morning sleeping in the pew but he made it.

I appreciate you and our friendship, Tony. Also, how close we’ve been throughout all the years and putting this together. Josh, Tony connected us and we’ve been talking on and off. You served in the 3rd Special Forces Group. You are a fellow Green Beret. I appreciate everything that you’re doing. The first time I was talking to him, he was getting pulled over too.

Greg, we were joking with you that you were in the picture with Kennedy when the Green Beret was issued but you’ve built a career over the years, not only in the 19th Special Forces Group and retired as Sergeant Major there but also here in the fire department. You don’t have to be intimately familiar with the fire department to understand your family’s legacy here and the impact that you’ve had over the years. It’s awesome to finally meet you in person because we’ve been talking for a while.

[bctt tweet=”As far as above and beyond goes, that’s where we operate because there is no limit to what we’ll do for people. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

I appreciate it. I come from a long line of firefighters and it’s been great. In my military career, I wrapped that up after 27 years plus.

You got to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

Both Sam and Josh came on as my probi. Whatever flaws they have, I could be partially responsible.

I appreciate all of you guys setting here with us. 9/11 was an impactful time and it doesn’t matter how many years go by. We’ve had the twenty-year in 2021. We have whatever you want to call it coming out of Afghanistan. We can sit here all day and put different terms on what that exit is, what I’ll say, what it was and it affects everybody in different ways.

All of us here are products of 9/11. We talk about a lifetime of service in a number of our conversations. We had Doug Philippone on in episode 58. He was in Ranger Battalion and is the Global Defense Lead at Palantir. He talks about this lifetime of service to the nation. You have these defining moments that Sam talked about that truly impact you and push you in a certain direction. It carries you for the rest of your life.

You guys not only served the nation in various capacities but you continue to do so in the fire department serving Boston and all the citizens here and each other. It’s important to tell that story, talk about that and what it means. I want to first go around real quick and talk about your military career, where you served and why you went in. Tony, we’ll start with you.

Like so many guys, I was directly from 9/11. That was my inspiration for why I joined the military. I was here in Boston at the time, the Northeastern guy down the street. I walked to the ROTC office on Huntington Ave the next day and said, “Where do I sign? Can I go now?” They had explained to me that process is going to take a little bit longer.

I’m working on a Finance degree. I made a drastic left-hand turn. I wanted to get on the first thing going. I ended up going down to Fort Benning and becoming an Infantry Officer. I did that whole Ranger track and ended up in Afghanistan in ’06 and Baghdad in ’08. That’s what made me in the Army and I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t regret any of it.

Were you back here since?

When I became a civilian afterwards, I came back to Boston but I had a different job and lifestyle. I did that for 6 or 7 years before I decided to get on the Boston Fire Department. I was the older new guy when I got on. It was because I was missing what I had in the military 100%. That’s why I changed over to Boston Fire after being a civilian for too long, probably.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

Josh, we won’t hold it against you that you were in the 3rd Group but you are slightly above the Marine over here. Go ahead.

Unlike Tony, I was a little bit younger so I couldn’t just go across to the office there. I was about sixteen when 9/11 happened. I knew I wanted to do the military but what I figured out was when I said, “We’re going to war,” but only when you’re a part of it so they’re like, “You’re sixteen so you’re not going.” Time does weird things. I had always wanted to go overseas and serve but as I was becoming a more competitive athlete, my focus shifted to sports, women and fun. Service fell off which was fine. It has developed me into who I was but it was funny. It comes back around that sports, women and fun meant that I wasn’t getting into any good colleges.

The only college that accepted me was Norwich University which is a small military school. They were like, “If you want to go to college, this is where you’re going.” My father was like, “You talked about the military. You’re not enlisting because I don’t trust you to enlist. To be quite frank, you’re an idiot.” I went to college there. Norwich led me to the infantry at the 82nd Airborne, which led me to the 3rd Special Forces Group. I spent my entire career in Bragg, Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia. That was probably the best place I could have been operationally. The 5th Group and the 7th Group guys, you have your areas of operation. We go to war.

You guys did a great chase. We were busy fighting the fight. That was great because I could have asked for a better operational experience during my time in the 82nd in that group specifically in Afghanistan but unfortunately like Sam, I had some injuries that occurred. The bigger thing was I could have stayed in and if it was a solo, I would have stayed in but there’s a family that started to occur.

I don’t know how that happens in between deployments. It keeps getting bigger and four kids later, here we are. Eventually, after my last injury, my wife was like, “I’m tired. Have you thought about a change of career?” Luckily, that forcing function of getting hurt had me come back here. I love the Army. You and I had some conversations. I started working for O2X. That was great because it was with like-minded people like everybody in this room but there’s still a little bit of something missing.

O2X is all about service and it’s a great company. I’m still very involved with them but I missed having the comradery of high-stress events. Interestingly enough, to tie this group together, I was connected to Greg and Sam but before the fire department, I got to know Tony because we coached our kids together. I was like, “You’re a firefighter. I got this card but I don’t think I could do it because I’m too old.” He was like, “You’re an idiot. You can do it and will do it.” I took the test but I didn’t think it was a viable option. In between these three guys, I came on. I still got to have that. It’s like everybody here with that life of service, my path was a little bit different because it was all good intentions but very degenerate beforehand.

I grew up in Dorchester and I came from a neighborhood that thought very highly of veterans. At a young age, I wanted to join the service. That wound up being the Marines. I read a book about Marines in Vietnam and started getting into it. I was very focused on enlisting in the Marines immediately after high school, which I did.

I had a great experience in the Marines. I learned a lot. I did a lot of traveling and had a lot of operational duty in terms of what was going on in the ’90s. I got to get a lot of experience both as a leader and as an American serviceman going out there at that time what was largely security operations and things like that both to South America like the Balkans. We had a security force and things going on in Bosnia.TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

I want to get out of the Marines after that four-year enlistment. I went right into the Marine Reserves. During that year in the Marine Reserves, I got onto the Boston Fire Department. At that time, a few of my buddies had become cops and I had taken more as a Marine. I make a better cop than a fireman-type of thing but it was a blessing getting on. There are a lot of firemen in my family including my mother’s dad and my father. Also, my mother’s brother-in-law and my uncle was a fireman here at Engine 42 for 25 or 30 years. We have a bunch of firemen in the family, including my dad’s cousins. The McLaughlins. Also, the two McLaughlin brothers served here as well at Engine 42 and Rescue 2.

There are a lot of firemen in the family but I was more into like, “A young Marine, I’ll join the SWAT team or some crazy stuff like that.” Thank God, none of that happened. I became a fireman. In my first fire, I got lost in the smoke but I did it. I did assist my Captain Bobby down and my senior man Eddie Sinek. We rescued this lady. It wasn’t overly dramatic but to me, it left quite an impact. This lady was on fire where we found her and she lived when we got her out of there.

[bctt tweet=”This isn’t just where we work and operate. This is where we live and that’s where we get our strength because we’re defending our neighborhoods. We’re protecting our city.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I was wet behind the years probi but it snapped me into what this job was all about and I loved it ever since. I had worked a little bit with Special Forces in South America and Bosnia in terms of interacting with them. I’m not so deeply involved in their activities but I knew that what they had going on was pretty interesting. They didn’t seem as high-strung as the Marines.

What’s that supposed to mean?

They could put their hands in their pockets. They seem to be able to do their jobs with their boots on blocks. I was mesmerized by it. I got on the 19th Group out of Rhode Island. I went and tried out for their training team, which is you guys from the active groups don’t have that but they train you up. Only you can go down pass selection but they can screen you to make sure you’re a fit for what they’re looking for. I had gone through a training event in August of 2001, which was a pre-selection and pretty rugged carrying heavy stuff around and getting your ass kicked and all that.

A month later was 9/11. I don’t know how many dozens of Boston firefighters. I would say upwards of over 100 or perhaps 150 Boston firefighters wound up working down there at Ground Zero in the pile. Several of them are still on this job including myself and several guys from our firehouse that had gone down and a bunch of firehouses.

How did that work? Talk about that because it was chaos here in Boston.

I was working on 9/11 and they were immediately evacuating the city. I was working on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. I was filling out the log book and I had the TV there. It was muted. I looked up. There was a news helicopter filming the smoke billowing out. It didn’t even say plane crash or anything yet. It said, “Fire in the World Trade Center,” but it was massive. I had a little over a year on the job at the time but I knew high-rise fire is super complex. When they get going like that, they’re probably going to burn to the roof. Good luck putting out a massive fire dozens of stories up in the air. It’s extremely complex. It means if the fire got that big, it’s already overwhelmed with whatever systems that that building has to protect against that.

I knew it was a massive fire there. I got on the microphone to the firehouse. I said, “Guys, turn on Channel 7. There’s a big fire in the World Trade Center.” Over the course of the day, we watched the rest of the day unfold. “It’s a plane crash. It must be a small plane.” You’re looking at it, it’s got multiple floors involved and all that. We watched the next plane come in live. My senior men and I were trying to figure it out.

We said, “Was that some kind of replay?” I’m looking at one building that’s got smoke and I see another building that’s got flames blowing out. I said, “We’re at war.” You know over the course of the next couple of months, the 5th Special Forces Group took over with American Air Power and other elements like CIA teams and all the books are out there. I don’t think there’s too much secret about that anymore.

We had Chris Miller on.

Also, several of my future teams were a part of that as well. Here I am. I’m going to this pre-selection thing. I’m a Marine infantryman and I go to this selection program that screens you to even go to the Special Forces selection. That was a couple of weeks earlier and I’m watching the 5th Special Forces Group takeover Afghanistan on horses with laser beams and lightsabers.

That’s what motivated me. I was studying journalism at BU and was like, “I’m going to be a war correspondent. This is sick. I love this thing.” You see these guys and you’re like, “Hell no. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s impactful.”

Right at that time, I said, “I’m doing this.” Since then, I had committed myself to my unit. I stayed in that unit for the next twenty years. Getting up to being the Sergeant Major of that unit was an honor to hold that position and my career abruptly ended in a thud. We were doing a free-fall jump. It didn’t go out with a bang. It went out with a snap and that snap was my back, femur and some other smaller, less significant bones that still hurt. That’s how that wrapped up but a lot of stuff happened over those years. It was an honor to serve.

A lot of that same comradery that we have in the military is the attraction to the fire service and being a Boston firefighter. There are five stressors of combat that we’re taught, fear, fatigue, the fog of war, casualties and boredom. You’ll encounter all those in the fire service. Not on every shift but over the course of years, you would encounter all that. As Josh had mentioned, you said that comradery of having to overcome dangerous things together.

If I don’t do my job, then something’s happening to you and that’s the job gratification.

Sam hit it. The mission, team and self stuff are very relevant in the fire service and get that teamwork and that sense of facing danger to help people. It could be a fire or anything. If people called 9-1-1, any firefighters, cops or EMS people as well are going to go there and it doesn’t matter. It could be almost certain death in the mind like, “I’ll figure it out though.”

You’ve all talked about comradery and teamwork. We talk about team ability as one of the nine characteristics that we were talking about, Sam. Tony and I talked about this. We were sitting in a bar that was right above where Mass. Ave. meets Mass. Pike, the Bukowski. He was getting ready to go to the course. I was taking the test and getting ready to go to the academy. I was asking, “Why? What’s the thought? Why do you want to do it?”TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

One of the things that we never think about when we’re in is that teamwork. The fact that you’re sitting around these like-minded individuals, these savages at times who think and act like you but they challenge you in ways and there’s this level of competition. You’re always learning new skills and then you leave. You sit here and all of us get out and you’re like, “I’m going to be an entrepreneur, build this business and do this stuff.” You find yourself sitting there and you’re like, “This sucks. I’m by myself. I got no one to talk to. Nobody understands me. I’m making no money. I’m worried about I can get fired.”

You start realizing. It’s this intangible piece that you never can put your finger on when you’re in and then all of a sudden, it’s gone. You all talked about coming into the fire department to replicate that. Why is that so important? You are talking about going home to your family and spending more time with the team here. How does that time in the military compare to being here in the fire department?

Nothing compares to a war zone. Nothing compares to that level of cohesion and comradery. Twenty-four hours in a firehouse, especially the way we are here, is the closest that you’re ever going to get. There are so many similarities. It’s cathartic to people like us because there’s a place where we can go with like-minded individuals. It’s not that we share the same conversations. We share the same mission. What bonds you in combat is your mission. What bonds us here at the firehouse is our mission.

We’re here to help people, save lives and protect property. You bring the same mentalities that you brought to a kinetic environment overseas. They have to modify it a little bit but at the end of the day, it’s that same drive and mentality. I met Greg prior to coming on. I met Josh and Tony through the fire department. We were pretty close individuals and friends. There are some common threads there between all of us that started in the service and they’re right here in the fire department.

[bctt tweet=”What bonds you in combat is your mission. What bonds us here at the firehouse is our mission.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’d add that so many Boston firefighters over this generation here are combat veterans. We’ve been hiring so many veterans. On our crew, when we all worked on the same shift on the same truck, we used to joke that our work shift is like a PTSD clinic. Sometimes we refer to non-combat or non-service members as normal. It’s like, “There are normals there. Don’t let them over here us.”

We would start talking about something on a call and I was like, “You’re scaring normal people.”

These innocent women and children.

You don’t want to get in a gunfight but when you do, afterwards, everything works out well so you’re pretty pumped and excited. Your boys are there and everybody made it out. That’s awesome. That’s a great feeling. We don’t want anybody’s house to burn down but we go to a fire and everything works out great and we’d go home afterwards. We’re high-fiving. I wouldn’t say joy but there’s something there.

You touched on it perfectly. You’re talking about this common bond. Nobody wants to go to war but you need people who will go to war. We don’t want anybody’s house to burn down but unfortunately, if we’re going to go to war, people’s houses are going to burn. You need people who are willing to respond to that and give of themselves to serve others and protect others. We don’t want it to happen but knowing that it’s going to happen, we prepare for it. To Tony’s point, when it does happen and it will and will continue to do so, it is a good feeling. You feel terrible for the people involved but then you also feel good for them because it’s like, “You’re okay.” I feel good because I feel great about these guys. It’s like, “They’re okay because we showed up and did our job.”

I’ve got another take on that too. It was one of these conversations I had in the middle of the night on the flight line waiting for a LOGPAC with my Bravo. He’s like, “We had a big mission coming up. How do you feel about this mission?” I was like, “I hope it goes well. Quite frankly, we’ll see what happens.” He took that as, “I don’t want to make contact that day.” We had a conversation. He was like, “You don’t want to get into a gunfight.”

It’s like, “As a leader or a member, you never want to go into a gunfight because that can mean that if I put you in a position, one of the guys dies and you have to explain it. I’ll tell you if there’s a gunfight individually, I don’t want to be a part of it. In the same way, I don’t want the house to burn down but if there’s going to be a fire that day, I sure wanted to be in my work group so I can be a part of it.”

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“I don’t want a house to burn down, but if there’s gonna be a fire that day I sure want it to be on my working group so I can be a part of it.”

You want to be challenged and also, you have a common thread with everybody in this room I trust to be in a gunfight with and go into a fire but I also trust that when I’m in the firehouse, I’m having a good time. I enjoyed going to work with the people I work with. My family life benefited from that because I would come back pleasantly refreshed. That’s a wrong choice of words but from a mental stimulation point.

You are physically exhausted and mentally stronger.

I joined the department a year after I got out.

You had a quick turnaround.

I was in the adjustment timeframe where I was floating through life. I had my civilian friends. I had a great reintegration from that aspect. I was with my family but I didn’t have people I could talk to about things and then I show up at the firehouse. I was like, “These are my people.”

I’m a little nervous about coming into that. I was like, “No. This will be safe. You can talk.”

Like-minded intervals attract the same as high-achievers attract and want to be together. People who want public service, generally gravitate toward each other. How many circles do this group run in? I’ve talked to three different people. This guy and I besides coaching little kids in soccer, we’ve connected through different networks. Greg and I know all the same people. Sam and I have connected through state police friends and everything else. The circles you run in there are tight. Good people attract good people.

Events still happen here in the city. Tony and I talked about the Beacon Street fire. I watched your speech the day after you were sworn in about the Vendome Hotel fire. I want to read something you said because it’s important. You said, “Service in the Boston Fire Department is defined by a steadfast commitment to the belief that the service to others, most often strangers, is not only noble just but essential. As firefighters, we serve to preserve and protect life.” What’s that mean to you?

It’s simple obedience to duty, as we understand it. We’re going into a burning building, for example. An interesting thing is that firefighters do the same thing on that initial search. If you find someone, they’ll give you a shiny pin for your jacket and it’ll say if it’s metal or whatever. Firefighters do the same thing in every building that they go into and they do that very aggressive initial search. They’re looking for strangers. They’re willing to risk their lives for strangers but it’s obedience to duty. It’s answering their calling. If you find yourself in that situation, you want someone to come and get you out.

The Beacon Street fire, you brought that up. It was the ultimate PTSD-creating event where it’s a prolonged failed rescue of your colleagues and not strangers, your teammates. I’ll say the best firefighters in the city happened to be on duty that day. The best chiefs and the best rescue guys were on duty. That’s a situation where this job is comparable. I tell my new guys when they come on this job because they’re oftentimes veterans and combat veterans, “Is this going to be as intense as combat?” Not usually and hopefully never but you can get just as dead here as you would get dead in combat. That’s how serious you have to take this job but it is simple obedience to duty.

That’s why regardless of the circumstances, if citizens are in danger, we will meet them on the X. We will go all the way for anybody. At a given moment, there are one million people in this city. A lot of them are tourists or students and guests. We will go to the fences for anybody. As Josh said, “I don’t pray for war. I pray for peace but if war comes, I want peace.” It’s the same thing in the fire service. I don’t pray for fires but if there’s a fire, I want them to call me because I got a great crew and we’ll do whatever it takes to help people out, firemen or civilians.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“I don’t pray for fires, but if there’s a fire I want them to call me.”

I’ll take it a step further but also narrow it down. Greg’s talking about obedience to orders, obedience to duty and that’s an obligation or something you do. I’ve always had the aspect of whether it’s war or fire. If not me, then who? Not even to say this 1 group because there are 1,500 of us who do it. There are hundreds of thousands of this people in this city that do something for the public good. Take it a step further from only the fire department. I came up in a household where my father was like, “You do some sort of public service. I don’t care what it is. It could be Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or the Marine Corps. Don’t do that.”

He said, “Maybe not the Marine Corps but you’re going to do something that helps people in some way, shape or form. You look across this city and you’ve got firefighters, cops, EMS, doctors but also volunteers who are going out to folks. Not because they’re being paid for it or compensated but because it’s the right thing to do. They want to help people.” Along the lines of what Sam’s comments are for us internally, it’s like, “I want to go help people in fires because I’m capable. I’m willing. It’s my moral duty but quite frankly, it’s an obligation I’ve chosen to do because I can. What can I do to help other people?”

[bctt tweet=”If capable people don’t take on these professions and don’t put themselves in these situations, we’re in trouble. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

We’re lucky that we have a job where we’re all capable, willing and quite frankly, that we love doing because it’s rewarding. You get to do it with the best people in the world. When you have a job or you’re doing something with the best people in the world, it stops being a duty. It becomes a privilege. Service is a privilege, in my opinion.

This is a lifetime of service and you guys exemplify that every day.

Not everybody can do what we do. That’s different strokes for different folks but we are capable of doing what we do. If something ever happened to my family and I wasn’t around, I sure expect that capable people would show up and do capable things. If capable people don’t take on these professions and don’t put themselves in these situations, we’re in trouble. When you recognize yourself as someone capable of handling this profession or these stressful situations, you do have an obligation to get involved and serve people.

I always want to challenge you a little bit on that in a good way. You’re right. Everybody’s not capable of doing what we do, which is why the Boston Fire Department and quite frankly, the military and the law enforcement first are so great but everybody is capable of doing something. What sets this table and professional apart is that not only we are capable of doing something but we’ve chosen to do something. There’s not a person out here who can contribute. It’s whether or not you choose to.

It’s a deliberate act. You went out and did something.

You got a great little insight into what the kitchen table in the group used to do. “We’re this close to solving the world’s problems.” Greg had an org. Josh got promoted. I ran a campaign.

A commonality we have with a lot of professions that I see is any profession that swears an oath, we do it. Law enforcement does it. Also, a judge, a doctor and the Hippocratic Oath. You need to do that because you need to differentiate what you do from the general public. We all walk around with this common understanding that we’re going to treat people well, do this, be good neighbors and that kind of thing but once you swear, you’re signing off onto a different level of responsibility.

TJP - E75 Boston Fire with Sam Dillon, Greg Kelly, Tony McDonagh and Josh Stuart Shor

“Any profession that swears an oath…you are signing off on a different level of responsibility.”

Your lawyer can’t phone it in because you’re on trial for murder. It’s your life in their hands. If the doctor can’t do it in surgery, then we can’t do it when we show up here. We have to do it for real. Everybody that swears an oath makes that same commitment that we’re going to go all the way with what we do. There are lots of people out there that take that same oath. Test question. Is Mac Jones going to do it in 2022 or what? The Red Sox are out of this thing.

The Red Sox is below 500. Mac Jones will get it done. That’s in the Super Bowl.

Some guy was yelling at me. I saw a guy at Whole Foods. He saw my shirt and he’s like, “You got to get those guys on EEI off. They’re old. They don’t know what they’re talking about. You need to go on the sports radio.” I said, “Go keep downloading my show and maybe we’ll get there.” I appreciate your time. For me, this is truly an honor. I talked about being excited to come here. I’m jealous in a lot of ways. Tony and I talk about this a lot.

I’m pretending I don’t need my glasses to look up on the walls here but you come into this building and this place is truly an institution. You guys exemplify so much and everything that Sam and I talked about in the beginning. Not only about a lifetime of service to the nation and others through your military career and your career but exemplifying what this organization is and what the Boston Fire Department is. I’m a citizen. Yes, I was a Green Beret and I served alongside all of you. Now I’m normal, I guess.

We’re not going to let you get away with that.

It makes me feel a little bit better to run away.

Don’t run away from your feelings.

We need what you’re doing. I think about what you do and what the fire department here in Boston does when I drive past the one in my town, even though I’m in Connecticut. My wife wanted to go there, for the record. I drive by the fire department every single day. I looked there and say, “We need people like that and I know that they’re going to be there.” Thank you.

Thank you very much.

It’s good to finally meet you too.

There is much more to come. Good luck. Stay safe.


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