The Parable of the Wise, Old Fireman

It has been my observation that one of the primary ways which Jesus Christ used to mentor his flock involved the use of the parable. Gowler (2002) tells us that, "… A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse that illustrates a lesson. It differs...


This young chief was at a loss to explain what was going on. He was telling people what to do, but they just did not seem to understand what he wanted them to do. How could they be so stupid, he wondered to himself?

As the number of people continued to dwindle and the department's ability to get a fire truck on the road slipped dangerously, guess who it was that kept on coming out. That's right, the older, veteran firefighter who liked to mentor, share his knowledge with others, and just make friends.

Oh, he did not agree with what the young chief was doing, but his love for the fire department kept him coming. He never jumped on the young chief when he did something stupid. He threw no rocks, but neither did he throw words of praise. He just made sure that he performed any task he was given in a proper and proficient manner.

One evening, the veteran firefighter passed by the chief's office and saw him sitting behind his desk with the look of a hang-dog, old hound dog firmly planted on his kisser. The older guy popped into the office and said to the chief, "…what's up boss?"

The chief looked up and said, "I don't know. Something is wrong and I cannot figure it out. Why aren't people doing what I tell them to do?

The veteran paused for a moment. He was searching through his vast reservoir of experience for just the right answer to this critically important question. Please bear in mind that this fine older man had served in all of the ranks during the course of his decades of service to the department. He was searching for just the right bit of advice to impart to the newly inquisitive individual.

Finally he sat down in a chair opposite the chief and began to speak. He said to the young chief that he had been waiting for the opportunity to contribute to this situation, but that it did not appear as though the chief wanted to hear any thing from anyone. He noted that this was not a good thing, but that he had not wanted to butt in where it appeared as though he were not wanted. The old timer then added that since he had now been asked he would now toss his two cents of opinion into the organizational pot.

The veteran fireman proceeded to tell the young chief of another chief decades earlier who worked in a similar way. This fellow kept to himself and never asked anyone for their advice or their opinions. When he did interact with the troops he had a sort of a 'my way or the highway' approach to running the fire department. Many of the other members referred to him as a "smart ass." Above all, he made the younger members (of whom the veteran was one at that time) feel really uncomfortable. Not a good state of affairs, the veteran said to his young chief.

The veteran told the young chief that he made up his mind that if he were ever to rise to the officer's ranks that he would remember what he thought to be the mistakes made by this man. He swore that he would work to do every thing in exactly the opposite way of the "know-it-all" young chief. He kept simple, hand-written notes to stimulate his thinking. He shared these thoughts with the current young, know-it-all. Here is his list: " Find and recruit the right people " Conduct your recruit training under a well-trained staff " Mentorship by a veteran during the initial work assignment " A guided system of education in the many aspects of the fire service " The use of experience in a positive manner, viz. critiques after each incident to identify the good things as well as the problems " Re-reading of the educational materials as a way of reinforcing the good things and overcoming the bad things which were identified during the critique. " Making the whole process a continuing circle of learning, doing, critiquing and retraining. " Treat the troops as you yourself would like to be treated. " Be a servant to your troops.

The veteran then went on to state that no one should be exempt from playing their part in this loop of learning. He told the young chief that knowledge and experience only come as a result of years of diligent effort. He stressed that each of us who wishes to excel must understand the demands which are made up us in the areas of learning, performing, and improving. The key methods which we should all consider employing are two-way dialogue, practical reasoning, active listening, and the simple act of sharing.