The Empty Room

One of the great joys of my life revolves around the act and art of communications. Each day, I look forward to reading the newspaper, watching the television news channels, and interacting with my friends and fellow firefighters. Like many among you...

In addition to this you should work to create a body of people who share a common interest in the tasks which must be accomplished. You must work to be able to properly represent the many concerns and interests of a group of people share a solid bond. People will not listen to someone who fails to take their interests into account. Nobody likes a my-way or the highway sort of leader.

You need to develop listening skills and work to integrate the ideas and ideals of your people into a shared approach to getting the job done in your fire department. You must come across as a member (leader) of your team. It is critical for you to ask for the help of your fellow team members. None of us has all of the answers. Should you hold yourself out as a know-it-all, let me suggest that your chances of success range somewhere in the range of 0 to -10.

You cannot be seen as a person who is merely passing through on the way to somewhere else. In the world of local government, people like this are known as gadflies, and they can be a real pain in the butt. They bitch, moan, and groan over every little aspect of how things are done. They are long on talk and real short on substance. They will tell you what you are doing wrong, but come up empty when pressed for their means of solving a problem.

These are critical tasks which you need to place into your leadership tool kit. I believe that many of you will fail to see the meaning of my missive here. You will look at the words and dismiss them as the ranting of an over-the-hill, retired fire chief. I sure hope this is not the case. Let me assure you that by ignoring my suggestions you can guarantee an empty room in your fire station.

As I sit here at my computer marveling over the range of thoughts which have jumped out of my brain and through the keys of my computer, feelings of joy and accomplishment are washing over my heart. My primary goal in life is to share knowledge with my fellow sisters and brothers within the American Fire Service. While there is still no one here in the room with me at this very moment, I feel as though I have reached out beyond the confines of my empty room. It is pleasing to think that maybe one person amongst you will take a look at my words and find something to use in your life.

As my wife and I were leaving the church at the end of the service, we paused to shake hands with Pastor Van DeBunte. As my wife moved on, I leaned over and thanked him for his message. I then asked him which did he think was easier; preaching to the choir or speaking to an empty room? His response was truly enlightening. It went something like this: "At least the empty room does not think it knows it all."

Let me close with a simple thought. Do not be afraid of the empty room. Fill it with thoughts and words. Let it be filled to overflowing so that when someone accidentally opens the door, they will be knocked to the pavement by the weight of your words. Have a good week and remember to abide by the old Latin motto: Non Illegitimi Carborundum. Which is to say, don't let the bastards wear you down. Let me suggest that these are words to live by in this the 21st Century. Take care and stay safe.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at