Aspire to Inspire Before You Expire

During the week just past a Brother Mason and fire person from Texas, Hank Salzmann, sent me an email which included a series of "New Church Signs". There were a number of really cute cartoons each with a slogan which was created to get the reader thinking about their faith and their church.

The slogan which caught my eye immediately is the one which now serves as the title for this commentary. This particular sign, and its message, served to focus my thoughts and allowed me to set down some ideas for you to ponder. Since retiring from the Newark Fire Department, my life has taken a direction which was chosen as part of a conscious effort to achieve a number of long-held personal objectives.

Over the past several years, it has been my goal to achieve a number of personal objectives which were created on August 17, 1997. That day came during the days just after my 50th Birthday. I was casting about at that time as to how best to spend the decade of my 50's. Since life is not a dress rehearsal, I felt that in order to have my greatest effect on the fire service it would be best to set down a number of things I wanted to achieve during my lifetime.

This week's commentary is a sort of follow-on piece to my commentary a while ago wherein I wrote about the need for the strategic living of our lives. You might remember from one of my earlier commentaries that I have set a number of goals for myself over the years. My mentors always told me to set out my goals and objectives and work logically to reach them.

It is my belief that no one should ever want to live their lives in a haphazard manner. If you decide what you want to do and then consciously work toward those things you have elected to do, then you should have a better chance of reaching your goals and having an impact on your world. There are no guarantees, but you have a better shot at succeeding if you work this way.

Through the years other people have set the example for me. They never knew who I was, nor did I ever get to meet the late Chief Lloyd Laymen, the late Chief Emanuel Fried, or any of a number of people whose writing inspired me as I moved through the early stages of my career. They wrote in the professional journals of their era in order to share what they knew and many in my generation profited from their efforts. They set the example.

However, it was my good fortune to meet such great fire service leaders as Chief Joe Redden, who was my chief in Newark, New Jersey, and the late FDNY Chief and Commissioner John T. O'Hagan, who was my mentor for nearly a decade. These two gentlemen inspired me to devote my life to the fire service. Their acts, actions, and writings laid the groundwork for the person I aspired to become.

While he was in Newark, it was Chief Redden who wrote the recommendations which helped me to win two consecutive scholarships from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He also helped me to move into the world of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). He even arranged for me to be one of the speakers at the dedication seminar for the opening of the NFPA headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts back in 1981. Perhaps he saw something in me and wanted to bring it out. His encouragement was crucial to many of my early successes. For that I will be forever grateful.

Chief O'Hagan brought me onto his consulting team in 1981. My initial duties could be likened to the typical description of what you would picture a "go-fer" to be. However, over time he grew me into a full-fledged member of his team. Eventually he allowed me the privilege of being his New Jersey project manager. He taught me to think on the global level. I owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. I only wish that he had known of my promotion to battalion chief. He died in early 1991.

These people were my mentors. Some knew that they were my mentors, while others did not. That is OK. Each man gave me the gift of their knowledge and experience. During my life I have made it a conscious part of my life's labors to repay these men by sharing their gifts with you. Though I can never tell them of their impact, I can help you by living it with and for you, my fellow travelers in the fire service.

In order to do this, I set a fairly lofty objective for myself when I turned 40 back in 1987. It was at that point in my life that I decided to develop the necessary skills and contacts that would allow me to share my experience in the widest possible array of venues. In fact I decided that having spent 21 years in the fire service gaining my education, experience, and fire service contacts that I wanted to become a nationally-know expert in our field by the age of 50.

So it was that in 1997 I took stock of myself and my career. It was left to others to decide how well my objectives had been met. My friends suggested that my goals had been met. My parents always taught me not to toot my own horn. However, now that I was a tuba player in a number of different bands, my comfort level with tooting my own horn had risen considerably. So my buddies encouraged me to believe that I had reached my goal.

It was then, on my 50th birthday, that I found myself enmeshed in a whole new quandary. After working so hard for a decade to achieve my goals, what in the heck was I going to do for the decade of my 50's? I like to think that I am always moving forward. There is no neutral gear on the transmission of my life. So what was a boy to do?

The net was cast widely in my search for ideas. Many of my friends, professional associates, and brother members of the Newark Fire Department were queried as to their thoughts. They shared what the felt and what they believed. They stressed that it was 1997 and I was not getting any younger. They shared their wisdom with me.

It is important for me to lay out some background on my family and their life at that time. In the 1990's my wife and children were deeply involved in the work of the Farmingdale Grange. My children had been members of the Junior Grange for a number of years and had come to make it a practice to attend the Grange Camp which was held each summer in the extreme southern part of New Jersey where there were still farms to be seen in the Garden State.

Heck, my wife was even the camp nurse, so that everyone who went to camp got to play a part in the rustic revelry of the southern part of our state. Never being one to mix my body with the rustic influence of the outdoors (read that as I do not like bugs), I wisely elected to remain home and hold down the fort.

Wanting to appear to be the doting husband and father, I decided that I wanted me to be the first thing that my family saw as their minivan sailed up the main street of Adelphia and turned into our driveway. So out I went to my favorite chair on the porch along with my customary cup of strong coffee and a tasty Honduran cigar.

As I sat there letting the warm breeze blow my hair, I began to think. One cup of coffee led to another and soon a second cigar followed. So too did one thought begin to lead to another. The haze that surrounded by search for life's meaning began to break up and some solid thoughts began to flow through my mind. In order to make sure I did not lose any of these thoughts, I raced into my office and grabbed a white-lined pad and a couple of pens. As the moments passed by my thoughts began to gel into a useable format and were scribed upon the first page of my pad.

By the time my wife and children made it home later that afternoon, I had created the credo by which I intended to live the decade of my 50's. As I type the words of this very commentary, those thoughts, goals and objectives hang on the wall not too many inches above my computer screen. They are there each and every day to guide my thoughts. Let me share a couple of these thoughts with you:

  1. Love and serve the Lord.
  2. Devote more time to my wife and family.
  3. Devote more time to my Masonic Lodge. (Master in 2004)
  4. Bring my career in Newark to a close. (Retired in 1999)
  5. Make learning and teaching a passion.
  6. Assemble a group of people who share my views and challenge them to think. This is not to be a group of "yes men" and "yes women." I want free thinkers who will challenge me to think. (That is you my friends)

Let me assure you that I feel comfortable in telling you that I believe that work was devoted to each of these goals. Part of my plan involved the sharing of my thoughts, words, and deeds. I have devoted a great deal of time to this. My target audience is the younger person who is going to be around this business long after I have crossed the river to be at home with the Lord.

Let me assure you I believe I will never know whether my target was reached or not. However, that is not the point. My joy comes from the doing of my deeds. Let me also assure you that my works are based upon having faith that my mission is right. Much of what we do in this life is based upon faith.

Now I want to share an important bit of news with you. Let me tell you who is inspiring me this very day. It is my son Todd. He is a man who has decided to devote his life to the Lord. He has been called to embark upon a journey towards becoming a Priest in the Catholic Church. He moved from his family in Adelphia towards his family in the Lord. He has opted to live a life of service to others.

You should understand this too my friends. You and I are also living a life of service. Maybe not the same type and kind of life as my son, but a life of service none the less. Each of us has chosen to devote some part of our lives to serving our communities in the fire and emergency medical services. Day in and day out we step forward to help friends and strangers alike.

Who inspired you to join? Who inspires you to continue? What is it about serving that makes you keep coming back for more? I cannot answer these questions for you. What motivates you might not motivate me. However, what you do with your life might well inspire me to do more in my life. It is my hope that my affect upon you has been positive, for that is my mission.

Many times when I arrived at a crossroads in my life, I had to pause and ponder the direction my life has taken owing to decisions made at past crossroads. So it was when I approached the fork which required me to decide whether to change from being a career fire chief and take the road to the future as a consultant.

The road I was traveling in the Newark Fire Department was comfortable and familiar. The road that led away from the department was uncertain and unfamiliar. It was only after a great deal of soul searching and a number of false starts that I chose to travel the road which led away from my past career as a career fire officer in the city.

That was the road I took. It has been most rewarding and enjoyable to say the least. My son has opted to take the road less traveled toward the direction of becoming a priest. As others have inspired me in the past, so now has his choice of a vocation inspired me. It is my hope that Todd experiences a rich life filled with the joy of service to others.

To move beyond the everyday experiences of life requires faith and effort. It is my hope that in some small way my words have helped you to make some sense of those issues facing you this week. Anything is possible when you move ahead with faith in your life, your potential, and your future. Let me close by urging you to "aspire to inspire before you expire."

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