When the “Firefighters Ball” gets underway on Thursday, Massachusetts will claim the honor of being “first in the nation” to have a statewide union of firefighters speak out against violence against women.
Hundreds of firefighters will pour into Florian Hall in Dorchester this coming week, and they will be saving lives. But there won’t be any flames shooting out of the windows.
These heroes will be taking the lead in a fundraising effort to benefit Casa Myrna Vazquez, one of the region’s oldest and largest shelter programs for abused women and children.
When the “Firefighters Ball” gets under way Thursday, Massachusetts will claim the honor of being “first in the nation” to have a statewide union of firefighters speak out against violence against women.
A seemingly odd role for firefighters at first blush, it’s a natural partnership when you think about it. Firefighters are often the first responders to 911 calls from battered women. They help with medical and transportation needs – and referrals to law enforcement and emergency housing.
My dad is a retired fire chief. My brothers are firefighters, too. Our family conversations about the job often involve stories about serving communities and protecting people from harm. My conversations with fellow board members at Casa Myrna Vazquez have a similar theme.
Some people say men shouldn’t be in charge of a “women’s” issue. “It’s like having a white guy lead a parade in honor of Martin Luther King,” they claim.
I disagree. In fact, lots of anti-racism activists celebrate the effectiveness of diverse leadership.
Moreover, if men are most often the cause of domestic violence, isn’t it especially important to have men speaking out against – and to – other men?
Lots of men around the country are already doing excellent work in the fight against domestic violence. But this is different.
Firefighters are the fearless (mostly) guys we envision swinging axes, breaking down doors, carrying heavy bodies down ladders and running into a burning building when the rest of us are running away in fear. Firefighters are so tough they gave their lives without blinking in the devastation of 9/11. These are the men who define masculinity in our culture.
But Boston Fire Fighters Local 718 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts have a different take on what it means to be a hero:
“The 12,000 members of the Professional Fire Fighters realize the importance of this issue, and that is why we are leading the charge in saying that domestic violence is simply wrong,” said Robert B. McCarthy, president. “It’s time we all stood up against domestic violence. It’s a critically important first step toward ending this issue in homes, families and communities across the Commonwealth.”
“Running into burning buildings isn’t always the hardest part of the job. It’s responding to a home where domestic violence has occurred and seeing the innocent victims, the children and mothers. This is the real hard part of the job,” said Edward Kelly, Local 718 president.
Men’s leadership doesn’t mean women need men to solve the problem. But it’s important for all of us to recognize that domestic violence is a man’s issue, too, not only because men can also be victims, but because as perpetrators, men lose valuable and loving relationships with their families, friends and communities.
Casa Myrna Vazquez is honored to team up with our nation’s heroes in this first-ever initiative to help support programs such as emergency shelters, 24-hour hot lines, education assistance, legal representation and other services that enable women and children in danger to live violence-free lives.
Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England School of Law and radio talk show host. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.