The Devil is in the Details

My friends, the title for this week's visit with you is probably one of the legendary quotations in the history of mankind. It speaks to a truth far greater than just about any other you or I will ever consider. The sad part is that it is also one of the most widely ignored pieces of advice in the history of the world.

Each of us is part of a great social tapestry which has been woven through the many centuries of human experience. Things you and I do today are based upon a history and lineage that dates back through the years to the dark recesses of history. There is a great wealth of knowledge upon which we all work to base our daily decisions. However we offer fail to use that wisdom.

The sad flip side of this is that I personally believe we also live in the midst of a society which, for whatever the reason, perceives itself to be smarter than any of its predecessors. This has been a theme upon which I have touched many times over the past several years. I believe that we keep making the same mistakes for a couple of simple reasons.

First and foremost is the seeming inability of younger people to seek out the wisdom of the veteran members of their organization. The second is that people have an amazing ability when it comes to not paying attention. Not asking and not paying attention have caused a great many problems throughout recorded history.

I learned a great deal about this sort of common sense wisdom during my 26 years in the active and reserve military forces of our nation. One of my earliest lessons came from the sergeants for whom I labored in the U.S. Air Force. My buddies and I were frequently amazed at how the sergeants could always detect when we were goofing off or screwing up.

We tried really hard not to let on what we were doing, but it seemed as though the veteran noncommissioned officers had a sort of intellectual radar to seek out and destroy efforts at breaking the rules and taking short cuts. Being young and dumb we were ignorant of the forces at work in the equation.

It was only with the passage of time that the truth of the situation was revealed. As my buddies and I gained rank and seniority within the fire service we began to notice what was going on. These folks who were leading us knew what we were doing because the chances were great that they too had done the same things in their younger years.

My friends, this is just one more example of another face of a very simple thing. It is called experience. The same process repeated itself when my brother and I joined the Newark Fire Department within three months of each other back in the early 1970's. We were both veterans of the military service. We had survived the service and felt that we were eminently qualified to take on the world in any endeavor. Of course we were wrong about that one too.

When we graduated from the training academy we were both assigned to Engine Company #11 on Central Avenue in the West Ward. It was under the tutelage of some really great guys that we began our fire service journey as young "red-ass" firemen. Our mentors were all veterans of the sad and tragic riot period in Newark history.

By and large these great guys were veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Lebanon Crisis, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. They were used to giving orders and having those orders obeyed, no questions aged. They were used to caring and sharing with the members of their company family. My brother and I were fortunate to learn from people with a wealth of experience.

It is my observation that somewhere along the line, knowledge and experience began to lose their value in society. Some say that this is a product of the turbulent 1960's. Perhaps I missed the genesis of this occurrence because I served overseas in the Air Force for most of the late 1960's. I had 32 months of credited overseas service. However a review of history now shows that this could be the point at which my generation started to challenge authority.

It was also somewhere during this time that the concept of not paying attention was elevated to a new status. People tuned out the world around them and proceeded to do things their own way. They would not accept correction. As a matter of fact these sorts of folks grew impatient with those who sought to offer guidance. One of the great criticisms of my generation by the senior fire people was that we just did not pay attention.

We have seemingly become a society which that favors the broad-brush approach to solving problems. People now delight in splashing a big idea up onto the canvas of life. No one bothers to think about the many parts of the whole. Far too many live no life other than that which they have created on the Internet.

Now these folks simply toss up their ideas and began to preach conversion to the new gospel of life. They do not want to listen, they just want to speak. The lack of participation in these interactions usually becomes the crux of future problems which damn their present efforts to failure.

It has been my experience that the participation of the troops in any meaningful endeavor leads to better decisions. It is critical that each of us make use of the special knowledge and views of the people who work in our fire department, our community, and the world around us.

At the same time this cooperative effort enhances the communications interactions, and work satisfaction of company members by making members aware that their opinions are respected and that they will have as great a voice as possible in matters that affect them. Teams do not just happen. They must be consciously assembled and nurtured.

So it is this week that I come to you with yet another bit of experience that needs to be shared. A few weeks ago I wrote a commentary which spoke to the upcoming road trip I have decided to take in order to personally assess the success of the FIRE Act. It is my intention to meet with real-world fire service people to discuss issues of real-life success or failure. Nice thought isn’t it?

I have undertaken this journey as a way of repaying the gifts that others have shared with me through the years. These people had questions about life, just like I did, but they were confident of themselves and their abilities. They were comfortable enough with themselves to share what they knew with me.

Many people have been heard to say that the FIRE Act is a great program. I know I have heard folks utter these words at the big conventions. However no one has yet crafted a document that speaks to the actual good works which have grown from it. That is the task I have laid out for myself: the creation of a body of knowledge on the actual impact of the FIRE Act upon the fire service.

Let me assure you that it is really easy to create a big, broad-brush idea like this trip. Hell, I have ideas like this all the time. However, in the case of this road trip, a couple of close friends sitting around a restaurant table at the Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis gave me the impetus for thinking that my long-standing idea for a road trip should evolve into a journey which revolves around the FIRE Act.

Conceptually it seems like I am on the way to doing a good thing. However, the devil is truly in the details. The usual questions have now come to the fore:

Now come the details, and believe me, the devil is at work here. On Saturday June 3 I began my attempt to lay out the route for my journey. How hard could it be? I just climb into my GMC Suburban and head west; right? Not really. Many were and are the decisions.

Which place should I visit first and in what order should I proceed to visit the rest? Should I go from Ohio to Kentucky and then on to Illinois, or should I go to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and then head back to Kentucky; with side trips further south. What about Iowa? The key is to do a minimum of backtracking.

Wait a minute. I have to factor in visit with a department in Shelby County, Tennessee, near Memphis and then another department just east of Nashville. Then again there is the department in Alabama. Then I have to head east into North Carolina and then move up the coast to Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.

On top of these thoughts, I need to be in Baltimore for the Firehouse Expo on July 28 and 29, and then back in Greencastle, Pennsylvania for the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association Convention the following week. Wow! No wonder rock stars have road managers to lay out their trips around the world. I threw up my hands and walked away from my computer.

My friends I nearly made a fatal error. Remember what I said earlier. When you try to shoulder all of the problems yourself, it is entirely possible that the devil within the details will emerge and eat you alive. When things start to get confusing, you need to reach out to a friend for help. This I have done.

My buddy Jack Peltier from Massachusetts has volunteered to help me craft the details of my road trip. He will also be spending some time on the road as my co-pilot. I would imagine that it would be quite lonely to blaze a trail across the center of our country while traveling solo. Jack is a real great help and will be a great companion.

My journey has already gotten some help from two different associations. The boards of directors of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) and the Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMSA) have approved grants for my trip. I want to thank Karen Burnham for her help. I now have about 40 percent of my proposed trip budget covered by grant funding. Any additional offers of financial assistance would be greatly appreciated.

There are a couple of more partners to mention at this point. Joseph Youssouf, my attorney and friend of 45 years' standing will be managing the funds for me. He is a man whose trust and friendship have been there time and again. I want no one to accuse me of taking this trip to make a buck.

Others have stepped forward. Just the other day, Jerry Merges of GemSpecs, Inc. in New Knoxville, Ohio offered his help should I get to the Dayton area. His offer of assistance will be most graciously accepted, as I am doing three interviews within a sixty-mile radius of Dayton. That would be Fairfield, Xenia, and Greenville. Maybe he has a friend or two at the local Hampton Inn.

I have decided to make the Hampton Inn chain my hotel of choice. They all have wireless and high-speed hooks ups. That will allow me to get my words up on the blog that Firehouse.com is creating for me. They also provide a comfortable place to stay at a fair rate. Not to mention the fact that they send you on your way in the morning with a nice breakfast. My research tells me that I will be able to stay at these Inns during most of my trip.

Frankly, it is my hope that more folks will step forward to offer their existence. I have made a critical decision. I have decided that I need to share my concerns and burdens with you. I do not believe that I can do all of this myself. I have asked for help and wonder of wonders, people are stepping up to the plate to offer their help. In turn my work will contribute to the body of knowledge within the fire service as a whole.

Sadly far too many out there across our nation cannot come to this conclusion. They load it all upon their shoulders and then wonder why things do not get done. They never ask for help and then find themselves snowed under by the work they have chosen not to share. They have not come to grips with who they really area as people.

Let me offer an approach you can consider. I live my life in accord with certain beliefs. How can I presume to help you if I am incapable of helping myself? So I have worked to make peace with who I am. Basically I hold four beliefs to be true. I list them in what I believe to be the proper order.

There you have it. These beliefs are at the center of my being. It is my position that once you know who you are and what you believe, you can begin to flesh in the other details of your life. Once your head is screwed on straight, you can then begin the process of reaching out to others for their help. Let me ask you an important question.

Are you willing to come to the point where you can ask for help? Have you arrived at the point where you are comfortable sharing what you have with other people? I would strongly suggest that this is a real sign of emotional maturity. The devil might be in the details my friends, but the sin is in the failure to seek help and share what you have.

That is my message for you this week. Pause and ponder whether you are trying to carry the world on your shoulders, or whether you should just try to share the load with your fellow travelers. Like all of my messages, the final choice is yours to make.

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