After almost 30 years of sitting around the dinner table at the firehouse, I can attest to the greatest stories ever told, the stories that intricately bind the brotherhood of firefighters. About ten years ago, a fellow firefighter introduced me to STAN stories – those stories that inevitably start with someone around the table stating “Shit that ain’t nothin” (STAN) and then the weaving begins. It does not matter that your story was about catching a fat woman from the second floor of a burning building or pulling babies out of the jaws of death, someone will invariably have another story to compete with yours.
The term was passed on to me as a joke for a particular firefighter that couldn’t resist the opportunity to engage in STAN stories. This guy was infamously dubbed STAN as his nickname. I realized this phenomenon was something I had witnessed many times throughout my career. You can see it before the words are spoken, the gaze off to the ceiling, and the self-serving smile and then, STAN. Once it starts, it usually continues one after another, with amazement, laughter and sometimes, well, the stories break up.
The STANs are not about one-upping each other. Conversely they end up pulling each other closer together. All firefighters will eventually witness human suffering that most people
will never hear about, let alone experience. The most popular method they use to deal with the traumas associated with public safety work is to recount the story back at the station with their brother firefighters. This story telling is a cleansing purge of the emotional build up of trying to understand what happened. The secondary benefit of the stories is the cementing of bonds that only those that have been there would understand, the brotherhood. It really doesn’t matter that the STAN story be any better than the one before, it just matters that it is one that everyone at the table can relate with.
Over the years of recounting STANs, the stories get better and in a timeless manner continue to serve the primary purposes of purging and bonding. I continue to engage in STANs at the station. The stories never get old, both telling them and hearing them. It keeps me connected and maybe helps me keep my demons at bay, either way I really enjoy the camaraderie.
This article isn’t presented as a scientific testament (although we’ve all probably read the benefits of talking about “it”), but rather as an observation and urging for every firefighter to keep on telling the STANs.
I wrote this article several years ago and it ran on the “Friday Report” weekly communication of the Texas Fire Chief’s Association. I’m not sure everyone got it then, so I tell it again. As a fire service leader, after making sure your fit emotionally and physically, you are responsible for those most precious brothers/sisters around you. I’m hoping you take heed and foster the “brotherhood” in this aspect. Be the leader by letting them tell their stories and let them hear yours as well.
Photo Credit; Abilene Texas Fire Department Archive