It is my wish to offer you a Christmas message designed to inspire a sense of peace and joy within you. It is my hope that you will be celebrating the joy attendant to the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, I also want to motivate you to continue your journey into the next decade of the 21st Century. Let me urge you to continue to do good works in the coming year.
Each year it is our privilege to celebrate the Christmas Holiday. We pause to gather with our friends and participate in the revelry of the season. Let me urge you to look at the celebration of Christmas, followed by the ending of one year and the beginning of another as a good time to take stock of your life. Let me remind you that this is a great time to say thank you for the joy of the season, make wishes, set goals, and create vows which will allow you to change the way in which you live in the coming year.
Have you ever felt as though you were a person whose ideas were ahead of their time? Maybe you were the one who wanted to get SCBA for your department in the 1970's. Perhaps you were the one who pushed for the use of Class A foam in the 1980's. Or could it be that you were the one who pushed for the use of incident command procedures long before it became a mandate from the president?
Let me tell you that I share your pain. More than 10 years ago I came up with an organizational theory which would allow for the combination of several fire departments over a region. I called it a regional fire authority. My consulting staff and I came together to define this concept and present it to a number of consulting clients. We fleshed it in and were bashed for our efforts.
Let me tell you that I was the subject of great ridicule. Why do we need this? You have no idea of what you are saying. This is a ridiculous idea. We can make it on our own. Yes, it was really painful to be subjected to this level of abuse. However, I felt the idea had merit, so I kept pushing it.
Here we are 0 years down the road and things are a bit different now. The economy has gone into the toilet and fire departments are now scrambling to find ways to deliver our necessary budget within the constraints of a disappearing financial base. I am now hearing the hue and cry for regionalization and shared services. I am now seeing the creation of regional service delivery systems which seem to be a mirror image of what I offered to the fire service more than ten years ago.
Let me assure you that it is lonely to be a man ahead of the operational curve. It is difficult to be a wise person in the midst of a bunch of wise guys. If these sorts of words regarding wisdom seem to describe you than it may be that you have served your fire department as an official sage. Our friends at Webster describe the word sage in a number of ways:
- Wise through reflection and experience
- Characterized by wisdom, prudence, and wise judgment
- One distinguished for wisdom
- A mature or venerable person of sound judgment
Now if you are anything like me, and have pushed for change, the treatment you probably received did not give you pause to believe that you were venerated, or even appreciated. As a matter of fact, I was kicked out as fire chief here in Adelphia after one year because it was felt that I had no idea about what it took to be a fire chief. They boys at the training academy in Newark got a real kick out of that story the next day when I shared it with them over our morning coffee session. However, I did not run away. I stayed and persevered.
Nonetheless you and I have pushed ahead because we believed it was the right thing to do. That action might also qualify us both for dreamer status. Dreamers look at the world around them and ask a simple question; "what if". We tend to see things as they might be, not just as they are. People like us are constantly looking for a better way to do this task or accomplish that procedure? I know that I march to the beat of a different drummer.
Being a change agent, dreamer, or sage, usually comes with a steep price tag attached. Choosing to become a dreamer sets you out in front of the majority of your fellow travelers in the fire service. It also allows you to become the poster boy (or girl) for abuse and contempt. These two forms of abuse are usually born out of fear and ignorance. People do not like change and thinkers, dreamers, and sages represent change. They do not like people who rock the boat of life.
Be not afraid my friends. Do not stop dreaming. Let me suggest to you that the world is spinning way too fast, and morphing far too frequently for us to depend on the concept of doing things the way we always have done them. Let me strongly suggest that we must look to the future and begin to prepare for the way things are going to be.
Let me suggest you look deeply within yourself for that spark which can ignite a fire of enthusiasm for your fire department. I say this for a reason. A Firehouse.com poll many years ago asked our readers to state the top gift that Santa Claus could bring to their fire department. Fully 25 percent of poll respondents indicated that they would like Santa to bring them new leadership. That number might be even higher now.
I think that it quite revealing that the top gift people wanted was new leadership. Hmm, I wonder. Might this not be something about which I have been writing and preaching for some time now? You bet your butt it is. Leadership is the number one problem keeping us from coming together and achieving great things.
Let me be candid. My commentary is usually not going to be read by people who are in positions of ultimate leadership. Rare indeed is the message of any kind which I receive from a fire chief. Rare indeed is the compliment I get from the person in overall command. These people usually castigate me for not understanding how tough it is to do their job. That is where they miss the boat about me. That attitude shows that they lack an understanding of who I am and what I have done during my career. Fortunately I kept notes.
I do know how tough it is to do their job. I have spent time as a chief. It has been my duty to set budgets and meet budgets. It has been my duty to control staff operations with a woefully inadequate budget. I know the joy of controlling a raging fire with an under-staffed response team. I know gang. I really do know. As Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioner here in District Number Two in Howell Township, NJ, I know the joy of having to present a budget to the taxpayers every year and defend it as we approach our election day in February.
What I also know is that it is infinitely more difficult to be an effective fire chief when you are "testicularly challenged." You know. You lack the guts to battle for your troops. Before you jump on me for uttering a sexist remark, let me offer the comment that testicularly challenged is a sex-neutral disease affecting people of all gender and transgender persuasions.
These people could also be alleged to suffer a lack of fortitude in their intestinal tract. Gutless my friends, totally gutless, that is what they are. No my friends, I cannot influence the incumbents. It is my mission to write for the future. My words are targeted to the people in their 20's and 30's who will be the leaders of the future.
It might be that I will no longer be around when these younger people begin assuming positions of leadership within their organizations. That I will never know of your success does not faze me in the least. That I serve as the lightening rod for upper level criticism is a role in which I revel.
Let me once again give credit where credit is due. The genesis for this commentary came during a past Christmas Eve service at the Colts Neck Reformed Church. Reverend Scott Brown was speaking of the impact of the 'Wise Men' who were guided to Bethlehem by the light of the Star which shown down on the path they were to take. The concept of the star and its guiding light began to take form in my mind. Was that really a star or was it something else?
Since no evidence can be presented as to exactly what it was, I chose to think that it was an angel which took the form of a bright star; a star whose light served as a guide for the wise men to follow. I say this because our pastor spoke of the angel as being a messenger. He gave the explanation that the word angel came from the Greek word angelos, which meant messenger.
Let me suggest that one of my great personal dreams is to create a generation of messengers within the fire service. It is my hope that you younger folks begin preparing for the journey up the chain of command. Let me offer my prayer that you keep your eyes on the prize. The objective is not merely seizing power for powers sake.
The real objective is to rise up the chain of command so that you will be able to help and assist more people. I want you to move upward without losing the real reason for seeking positions of authority, and as you move upward, I want you to shine the light of your wisdom on the path for those who will follow you.
Many were the times that my bosses yelled at me for wearing a blue t-shirt under my white chief's shirt. Most failed to understand that there was a strong reason for my wearing of the blue shirt. It was my desire not to forget where I came from.
So many of the bad leaders for whom I have worked over the years essentially forgot where they started within the organization. It was my intention to always remember my origins and work to take care of the people who had to do the dirty and dangerous work. Many of these folks have moved on to positions of leadership since I retired in 1999. I hope they remember where they came from.
There are those among you who will be the stars of the future. However, you need to take the affirmative steps of preparing yourself and making yourself known within your world. Maybe you are the victim of pressure and prejudice from the powers that be. Perhaps your ideas are just a bit too far outside of the box for your buddies. It is also possible that you are a concerned, caring, and thinking person who lives in the land of lost toys, outside of the seats of power.
Whichever circumstance it is my friends, take heart. You have the potential within yourself to achieve great things. You have the potential to become that guiding star that leads your friends and coworkers toward a new, more progressive fire department. I am urging you to become the star which shines its light upon the road ahead so that all around you can see the road to the future.
There is a gift which each of you can offer that comes with no price tag attached. It would be my suggestion that you consider giving the gift of yourself, your time, and your talents. Consider the value of the gift of just being there for your friends and fellow travelers when they need you. You will never really know when and where you will be needed. However, simply being there may be all that is necessary to calm and sooth your friends during a time of crisis. Become a caring and sharing person.
It is possible that many amongst you are wandering in ever-wider circles, searching for a new world, and waiting for a miracle to enter your life. You have an idea of where you would like to go, but you simply cannot see the fork in the road just ahead. Someone needs to be that light. Maybe it can be you.
Far too many people fail to recognize the importance of their comfort, support and encouragement to their friends and associates. Consider the fact that your mere presence might be the light which shines upon the darkened path of a dear friend during a time of trial. As a wise sage once said, "don't hide your light under a bushel basket."
Let me you a joyous and Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year my friends. May it be your good fortune to become a sage, an angel, or a guiding light within the confines of your personal and organizational world. As we enter the second decade of this the 21st Century, please try.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com 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. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip, which was also the subject of a Firehouse.com blog. You can reach Harry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.