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While it may be hard to get worked up over drilling on pre-fire plans, washing rigs and attending mandatory training, you must suck it up and do the right thing. Here is where leaders can come to the fore and lead their people from the front. If there is a drill, participate as a sort of working foreman. The leader is going to be in charge, but that doesn't mean avoiding an active role in the operation. Be there with your people. Leaders earn their respect one day at a time.
Even with that, I am still confounded by the lack of young people stepping forward to serve in our fire organizations. Perhaps it is because there is no money or recognition for a lot of what we do in our part of the world of voluntary service. Maybe the days are gone when people would do things for the plain old joy and satisfaction of doing them. If this type of devotion is gone, what a shame. A good leader can set the example for the next generation of fire service members and leaders.
Jack Peltier and I decided that we need to begin setting the tone for how this problem should be addressed. We have decided to become mentors for a number of younger people. You might say that we have been doing this for a long time, but we want to formalize our approach to the delivery of mentoring. To that end, we want to share a story with you. It is about someone that Jack and I met at the CFSI dinner. Nathan Bowers is the nephew of Marshall Younker, who was the president of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association (CVVFA) for 2006-2007. Nathan is 16 years old and wants to become an active member of the fire service. He was with Jack and me during many of the events that surround the dinner. At every possible opportunity, we gave him a tip or two about working behind the scenes as a "go-fer." We spoke of the importance of being in the right place at the right time. We spoke about using important concepts, phrases and questions such as:
- Thank you
- How can I help?
- What do you need?
Jack and I spoke with Nathan of the need to maintain a positive, can-do attitude. It should be noted that we made all of our comments quietly and discretely. We did not want to smother or embarrass Nathan with our efforts. We just wanted to share some of our combined 94 years of fire service experience and expertise with someone who seemed to have both interest and potential. I hope we were able to help in some small way.
It was an exciting time for both Nathan and his Uncle Marshall. As president of the CVVFA, it was Marshall's privilege to accept the first Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award. Nathan got to see his uncle deliver a passionate speech thanking the CFSI and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation for their support of the CVVFA Highway Safety Initiative, the Emergency Response Safety Institute and Respondersafety.com.
However, where were the rest of the young people? How can we expect the next generation to step forward if we fail to proactively invite them to accompany us when we make this periodic pilgrimage to the halls of power? This is neither magic nor brain surgery. If we want to have a next generation, we have to identify, cultivate and create that next generation. If you really love the fire service, you need to actively identify that person who will take your place.
I am proud that my daughter Kathleen is an active member of our fire company in Adelphia, NJ. In addition to her firefighting and emergency-response duties, she is a member of an area-wide committee created to stage a major joint fund-raiser in 2008. She has also attended Firehouse Expo in Baltimore. I would like to see her do more, but understand that she is a new schoolteacher with a limited amount of time off. There goes that busy-life syndrome again.
Solving the problem of creating next generation in the fire service cannot be left to chance. There are wise people in the fire service who have worked hard to convince their fire departments that youth programs are a critical element in creating future success. We did this in Adelphia nearly 24 years ago and the successful results are evident for all to see. Over the past 20 years, former members of our fire company juniors have risen to chief-level rank and have commanded our organization at numerous emergency operations.