What I Did During My Summer Vacation

Remember when you were but a wee slip of a lad or lassie? What was that one school assignment that each of dreaded upon our return to the halls of learning in September? We dreaded this assignment not because it was difficult, but because it meant that our summer vacation was at an end, and that we were headed back to our neighborhood school.

That assign was quiet simply, "What I did during my summer vacation." If you are like me, memories of that assignment have grown dimmer by the year. For me memories of those end-of-summer assignments are in the 45-50 year-old range. Even so, I now think that there was great value in that simple assignment. If we think about it, we can now see that an assignment such as that had some really valuable learning tools at its core.

You and I were being asked to think. You and I were being challenged to exercise our memory banks. We had to distill the essence of our lived experience into a series of cogent thoughts. We then had to place those thoughts into an orderly sequence and reduce them to writing. In some cases, our oral delivery skills were challenged when the teacher asked us to read our reports to the class.

I bet you didn't realize the importance of that simple assignment. Relax, you are not alone. Many of our greatest discoveries and achievements in life come only after a great deal of reflection and the actual living of that life. In this week's commentary, I want to share how a number of different people spent their summer vacations.

President Bush learned during his summer vacation that all was not well with his nation's disaster response program. Michael Brown learned that running a horse association was not enough to prepare a man to run a disaster response operation. All of us learned about a tough, cigar-smoking U.S. Army General named Honore who spent his summer bringing order from chaos in the Gulf Region. Dave Paulison enjoyed his last quiet summer for the next few years.

Speaking for my buddy Jack Peltier and myself, we spent our summer vacation on the road. Over the course of successive weeks we found ourselves in Baltimore, Maryland, McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, Denver, Colorado, and Wildwood, New Jersey. We were with our buddies Jim Cubbage and Steve Austin from Delaware and we were on the stump for the issue of Highway Safety.

We met with people from all around the United States. Our mission was to share the message that it is dangerous for all of our people who are operating out there on the highways. We spoke of the many training tips that our fire, EMS, and police associates need to know in order to remain safe while operating on the highways and byways of the world.

My travels then continued with a short jaunt up to scenic Lake Placid, New York at the request of my friend Ed Carpenter, President of the Fireman's Association of the State of New York. It was there during my keynote address to the 133rd Annual Convention of FASNY that I premiered the findings of my doctoral dissertation for Capella University in Minneapolis.

The words of my speech spoke to the five primary issues I identified which are hindering retention of members in the volunteer fire service. I shall share more on these thoughts with you in the future. To say that I am thankful to Ed for allowing me to share my findings with his membership is an understatement. For you see, Ed's theme for the year was Recruiting and Retention. It was a great match and it worked out very well.

There are others out there across America who spent their summers in pursuit of goals that benefited the fire service. Some agendas were laid out by fraternal and professional organizations. Some were created by people who know how to interact with the government of our nation. Others came to be through the efforts of dedicated fire service people who wished to provide a service to their communities.

Let me now point out some of the great things that the fire service in Delaware did this summer. Each year, we in the fire service are reminded that we should take time to meet with our members of Congress when they are home from Washington, DC for their summer break. Some of us do this and some of us do not. Let me share a couple of vignettes from one place where they do it right.

Over the years I have heard a number of U.S. Senators from the Great State of Delaware speak to the fact that in their state there are three political parties. There are the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Fire Service. One of the benefits of being a compact state with only three counties is that there are not a lot of places for practicing politicians to hide when they are home.

President Ray Stevens of the Delaware Volunteer Fireman's Association (DVFA) led a delegation to Washington, DC in early August. That group met with one of their Senators, Thomas Carper and members of his staff. Knowing the gentlemen from Delaware as well as I do, I am certain that the concerns of the fire service were clearly brought to the fore for Senator Carper's edification.

Far too often we speak of what should be done to lay our concerns at the feet of government. It should be noted that in Delaware examples of how to accomplish this type of political interaction rise to the level of textbook models. They are true professionals in the arena of fire service advocacy.

To this end on Monday August 15, the DVFA had their annual leadership meeting with Senator Joseph Biden, a really senior member of our U.S. Senate. According to my buddy Jim Cubbage, this meeting has been an annual event for nearly 20 years.

Senator Biden spoke on federal fire issues and then held a question and answer session with the group that lasted for nearly an hour. I have heard him speak on numerous occasions and I can state with certainty that he loves the fire service. A unique part of this meeting is the ice cream social that follows. During the social, Senator Biden dishes up the ice cream to all in attendance. Sometimes it takes him nearly an hour to make sure that everyone gets their fair share.

Let us now travel north from Delaware for about an hour. It was a summer of many challenges for my friend Dr. Robert S. Fleming of West Chester, Pennsylvania. In addition to his busy faculty assignments at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, he journeyed out to Las Vegas to assume his new role as Chairman of the Certified Fire Protection Specialist organization. He also spent some time with us in Denver.

Dr. Bob was also fortunate in being able to devote some of his precious time to publicizing an important fire company function for his local volunteer fire department. He was able to tell us about the hard work performed by Battalion Chief Neil Vaughn of the Malvern Fire Company. He honchoed their annual Fire Safety Summer Camp. This camp provides a critical educational component for the young people in the area.

They were provided with a number of critical life-safety skills and exposed to a number of valuable learning experiences. Among other things they learned:

  • How to use fire extinguishers
  • How to perform CPR and basic first aid
  • How to make your home more fire safe
  • How fires start and how to prevent them

The young people were also exposed to a number of informative sessions to show them how the fire service works:

  • Firefighting/rescue demonstrations
  • Vehicle extrication
  • Car fires

The fire company sponsored a number of field trips in the region to familiarize the camp participants with several important emergency operating facilities in the region. The camp participants visited:

  • Chester County 9-1-1 Center
  • Paoli Memorial Hospital Emergency Department
  • West Chester Fire Training School

The program ended with a simulated firefighter combat challenge (no fire involved), a graduation ceremony for the young camp attendees, and a BBQ luncheon for one and all. In this era of declining citizen participation in the volunteer fire service, it is encouraging to see a group like the Malvern Fire Company step up to the plate to take a swing at solving the recruiting and retention problems in a futuristic way.

Once again the summer vacation experiences of your associates in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, DC can serve as a learning tool for you. What did you do during your summer vacation? Was it something just for you? On the other hand, was it something for the good of the order?

Did you move your thoughts and actions outward beyond yourself and your family and do something for someone else? I am not saying that you should ignore your family to do the work of the fire service. What I am suggesting is that you not expect the "other person" to carry the load for you.

We must all work together for the good of the fire service. I reinforced that lesson during my summer vacation this year. The future of the fire service in our nation depends upon each of you.

If you fail to share in the work needed to keep our service alive and well, then you will surely be forced to share a portion of the blame for its eventual failure. As is usually the case in my commentaries, the choice of what to do is yours and yours alone. Make the right call

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