The Story Behind The Fireman’s Prayer

The Fireman’s Prayer is a beautiful and much loved poem that captures the fears and trauma faced by firefighters at the end of each day, and the courage and strength that enables them to face their work again the next day.

It was written in the mid 1900s, shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War, and is often recited at memorials and services for fire men and women who have been lost or injured in the line of duty. There is hardly a fire station or department in the US that does not have a framed copy of this poignant poem on its wall.

For many years the poem was considered to be anonymously written, and it was circulated mainly by word of mouth. The last two lines of the poem became particularly popular and well known, and were quoted in fire stations across the country.

The Fireman’s Prayer was first published in 1958, as part of a collection of poems entitled  A Celebration of Poets. This poetry collection is no longer in print and its last copyright was in 1998.

The Fireman’s Prayer featured as an unassigned poem in the book, however its author is now known to be one Alvin William Linn, otherwise known as ‘Smokey’.

A. W. ‘Smokey’ Linn was a firefighter who served as part of the Wichita, Kansas Fire Department from 1947 until his retirement in 1975. He was a popular member of the community and a dedicated husband, father and grandfather.

After retiring he went on to become the President of the local Chapter of the Good Sam Camping Club, organizing and taking part in many outdoors activities and events.

A. W. Linn never sought recognition or monetary gain from the popularity of his famous poem, but after his death in 2004 his family have been eager for him to receive the authorial recognition he so deserves. 

In 2006, A.W. Linn’s granddaughter, Penny McGlachlin, spoke passionately about her grandfather, how he got the name ‘Smokey’, and how he came to write the moving and insightful Fireman's Prayer.

She recalled stories of her grandfather’s selfless and courageous deeds, as well as what it was like for her as a little girl, growing up around the fire station, the tireless workers and the shiny fire trucks.

A.W. Linn first earned the nickname ‘Smokey’ way back when he was just a young lad. At the age of 15, he was living on his grandfather’s farm when he saw that one of the large barns was on fire.

Rather than running away, as most teenagers would do, Linn ran towards the flames and straight into the burning building!

His grandparents watched on in terror, and began to fear the worst as the seconds passed, but at last A. W. Linn emerged from the smoke having rescued his model T truck.

He rode the truck to safety but not before the back of his pants caught fire. There was smoke rising from his seat as he jumped down and he was known as ‘Smokey’ ever after.

Smokey was an excellent storyteller and wordsmith, and he was also a deep thinker. He often told stories of his time in the army, particularly of the time when he was a coast guard on a ship in the Second World War.

Whilst in the North Atlantic, his ship was hit by a tornado from a Japanese submarine and Smokey was one of only a few soldiers who survived. And this would not be the last time he came face to face with death.

On returning from the war he joined the local fire service in Wichita, Kansas, where he faced many harrowing and dangerous ordeals. However, none affected him quite so much as the night he was called out to a house fire in a local apartment block.

It was sometime in the early 1950s so he had not had too many years experience on the job. When he reached the scene of the fire, he and his colleagues quickly realised that there were children trapped inside the burning building.

Linn and his fellow firefighters attempted to save the children but they were unable to reach them because of some metal bars that the landlord had installed on the windows. Tragically, three of the children died that night whilst Linn was forced to stand by and watch.

When he got back to the station late that night, Smokey Linn sat in the common room and penned The Fireman’s Prayer. It was his attempt to make sense of the awful ordeal that he had just been through.

A deeply personal insight into his emotions, fears and doubts, Linn wanted to write a poem directed to his God that would inspire him and give him the strength to carry on in the profession. He had no idea at the time that his personal musings would go on to inspire so many others all over the world.

The words have been quoted and called upon by people whenever natural disasters or terrible incidents result in innocent lives being lost. In fact, the last two lines of the poem have even been engraved on the Crooks Corner fire station in Brunswick, Maine.

The engraving reads: “And if according to Your Will I have to lose my life, Please bless with Your Protecting Hand my children and my wife.” It was outside this station that Penny McGlachlin spoke so fondly about her grandfather in 2006.

The Fireman’s Prayer is often accompanied by the poem ‘The Fireman’s Wife’s Prayer’ and reads as follows:

Firefighter’s Prayer

When I am called to duty, God whenever flames may rage,
Give me the strength to save some life whatever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child before it’s too late,
Or some older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and give the best in me,
To guard my neighbor and protect his property.
And if according to Your Will I have to lose my life,
Please bless with Your Protecting Hand my children and my wife.