It's Not Your Father's Fire Service

Here is a short list of those areas where changes have occurred: Everywhere!


It would seem to me that we have become a nation of individuals. The America which produced the greatest generation has now succeeded in producing the greatest economic debacle in decades. It is almost like the old call when things go bad. You know; every man for himself. See, we are capable of doing just about anything in America.

Just before I sat down to write this commentary, it was my good fortune to stumble across an excellent op-ed commentary in the Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ. In this interesting piece, Daniel Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote of what he perceived as a serious lack of leadership at the upper levels of our government.

I found it interesting that the behaviors he observed, at the uppermost levels is just about the same as I have seen at a far lower level over the past several decades. Mr. Rothkopf spoke of how the spotlight which has shined on our leaders has served to diminish them in the eyes of the citizenry. He went on to quote Daniel Roth who, in a Wired magazine article stated that, "...tough times force-feed innovation, while good ones cultivate complacency."

I particularly liked his point that, "...In the end, a big part of the answer in our quest for leadership resides with us." He suggests that leaders will emerge to the extent that we demand and encourage them to develop. Herein lies a major part of the problem with leadership in the fire service. In far too many cases, we have settled for mediocre leadership when the times demanded much more. We have lived in the past when a move toward the future was in order.

Now let me offer the lesson of the day my friends. Let me be so bold as to suggest that you reach up into the dusty depths of your closet and search for something you may not often see a need to use in your daily life. I am referring to that device which my kindergarten teacher, Miss Newman, so lovingly referred to "your thinking cap." Ah, sweet memories of the old West Freehold School.

I do not know that I ever actually owned such a cap, but a failure to respond properly to Miss Newman did have the potential to allow me to spend the balance of the day wearing the "dunce cap." That is an object whose size, shape, and implications remain deeply impressed in my mind's eye to this very day.

None of us actually ever sought the "honor" of the large, cone-shaped chapeau, but we can recall its special shape and the accompanying chair which faced the corner of the classroom. Wearing the dunce cap meant that you had been tested and found wanting. I can still recall facing that corner and listening to the snickers of my buddies who had managed to avoid the honor of the cap and the corner, at least on that particular day.

The lesson I wish to share with you today is that the penalties for being dunce-cap material in the fire service are far more serious than a few moments spent in the corner of a classroom. They involve hospital or nursing home time in the case of serious injuries. They can end a productive career and fill your life (and the lives of your friends) with untold amounts of pain and suffering.

Worse yet, they might involve death. They might involve a period of sadness spent honoring someone in a local funeral home if that person is killed due to their own stupidity (or worse yet, your stupidity).

Let me now roll back the clock for a bit and take yet another trip down memory lane to the heart of my story. Many years ago there was a General Motors advertisement which was created to lure younger buyers to a product which had become somewhat long in the tooth.

Oldsmobile motor cars had been around for a long, long time when someone on their public relations staff came up with the series of commercials which revolved around a single, central theme. Their product was pitched to the public as, "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile."

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