Beware the Curse of the Promise Merchant

Sadly we are members of a fire service which has been fractured a thousand times over. We have moved in a myriad of directions while following a number of local promise merchants.


Whenever I say something that causes my buddies to sense that my eyes are about to roll back in my head on whenever I step forward seemingly to stand on the edge of the abyss of idiocy my circle of friends steps forward, grabs me by the shirt collar (or lapels) and works to smack some sense into me. Not everyone is this fortunate.

Sadly we are members of a fire service which has been fractured a thousand times over. We have moved in a myriad of directions while following a number of local promise merchants. Time and again it has been our sorry inability to reach any form of service-wide consensus that has condemned us to the status of second-class citizen in the search for a better position within the world at large.

We as a fire service need to create a common sense squad whose job it is to ride the range looking for those cattle that always seem to be grazing on the loco weed. We need fewer people making promises to us about what they think we need or what they think we should do. We need fewer people saying what they think will be popular, regardless of the true sense of the situation. We need more people speaking the plain, honest truth. Of course that can be a dangerous position to take.

I am still hard-pressed to explain why we cannot come together under a single banner that lays out the importance of our mission and allows us to join together for the common good of the fire service. As I read the wide variety of email messages, Internet, magazine, and newspaper articles, which pass through my home and office, I often have to stop and shake my head.

What in the heck is in the water out there that so many of our misdirected brothers and sisters are drinking? These folks seem to be out there creating all sorts of screwball goals and plans without any idea of how they are going to achieve them. Worse yet, many seem to have no basis in the world of reality. Even worse are those ideas which have no place in the fire service.

As I watch these folks at work, I am forced to stop and dwell on one of my great, personal shortcomings. I find it extremely hard to explain the inexplicable. I stand off on the sidelines of the fire service ballgame watching the various people playing at a game which seems so obviously to have no chance of success. I just wonder where it all will end.

These folks stand up and publicly profess to tell the world of the solidarity within our service. They sometimes seem so convincing. However, at some point many of these same folks then skulk back to their camps and wrap themselves within the cloaks and banners of their individual fire departments, associations, groups, and states; many times taking positions directly opposed to the lofty ideals they have already espoused to the world.

Why, when it is so critical to come together as one fire service, do we retreat to the comfortable womb of our individual groups? I guess it really does have something to do with operating within our own individual comfort zones. At least that is what I think.

Let me share another bit of sage wisdom with you on this trip through the tulips of your personal fire service garden. It is something I have worked to weave into my own life's patchwork quilt. Do not commit to a journey unless you are ready to do all of those tasks necessary to have a shot at success. Let me suggest that none of us should ever commit to any journey in life unless we are properly blessed with three commodities:

  • Time
  • Talent
  • Resources

I hope you remember the commentary I created not too long ago that dealt with the pruning of one's tree of life. Let me assure you that I am attempting to take my own advice. Over the past couple of weeks I have turned down requests for me to do a number of things. What these things are is not important. The important aspect of this visit with you is that my mouth actually formed and uttered the word "no."

Let me once more use the example of my road trip to illustrate the use of the "time-talent-resource" continuum. I am taking this trip in an attempt to do a good work for our American fire service. I have had people ask me a very direct question. They ask me what is in it for me. That is a question I cannot answer, because in this instance I believe I am doing something for the general good of the fire service. However, I know that such an answer never satisfies those people committed to making both sides of the nickel.