Many times I have written about a variety forces which have been at work while my brother and many of my buddies have labored in the vineyards of the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department. Sometimes I made sure you knew it was Newark and at other times I made sure you did not. Many were the incidents related to me by people that I love, know, and trust.
No matter the time or place, many of us on the job would utter a phrase which eventually became famous for the aura of its understatement. Those words that always came back to haunt us were simple and few in number. They went something like this: "things cannot get any worse than this."
Although I am retired, I maintain close contact with my brother and a great many of the friends I made during my time on the NFD. Over the past few weeks there seems to have been a feeling that the upcoming, non-partisan election would bring changes. Over the past few weeks I began to sense a change in the air.
The election has come and gone. For the first time in twenty years, the city is going to have a new mayor. After 20 years at the helm, Mayor Sharpe James will be handing the reins of power over to Mayor-Elect Corey Booker, and now the time has arrived to put the burden of future success on the next leadership team that will be charged with guiding the future of the Newark Fire Department.
While the advice in this commentary is targeted toward my friends in Newark, I believe that it can be of value to just about every fire department in the world. It is my belief that it can be of value in any situation where a change in leadership is about to occur. Hence I am going to speak about the lineage, heritage, and traditions of a fire department. Should you belong to a fire department I would invite you to pay attention to the words that follow.
My friends, it was my privilege to attend and participate in a truly watershed event within the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department on Thursday evening May 19. That was the night that the NFD Historical Association sponsored their "First Annual Irish Wake." This was a really great idea that was created within the bright, young minds of Frank Bellina, Damian Emmerick, and Darren Rispoli.
For those of you familiar with Irish heritage and traditions, the wake is the party wherein the life of the deceased is fondly recalled and liberally toasted. I have attended a few of those in my time. In some cases these wakes were held in the living room of the deceased, who would be lying in repose on the far side of the room. This venerable tradition comes from a time in the past when it was common for the wake to he held at home.
The deceased would be remembered fondly and toasted frequently. Stories about their lives would abound and the efforts of their lives would be celebrated. It was not a sterile trip to your local funeral home. It was an emotional journey in the home of a friend.
So it was to be at the 1st Annual Irish Wake in Newark. It was an event different from any I have ever attended in Newark. Rather than celebrating the death of someone or something, this wake was held to celebrate the possibilities for a bright new future which may lie just ahead. This party was held as part of a conscious effort to rekindle the old-time spirit of the Newark Fire Department.
This event was the first step in an informal plan to improve the morale and camaraderie of the fire department. I think that the people behind this movement are on the right track. However it is officially up to those people who will take up the reins of leadership on July 1, 2006 to make sure that the efforts now underway to build up the morale of the people on the department are not squandered.
Let me assure you that the current plan to recreate morale and camaraderie is not an official departmental effort. That is one thing that sets it apart from many teambuilding efforts I have seen in the past. The people are doing it because they want to create a new environment.