How Firm a Foundation

The thoughts behind this particular column have been rumbling around in my head since mid-September. These ruminations began to evolve during my visit to Dallas for the IAFC convention. My buddy Jack Peltier and I spent some real quality time at the Fire Rescue International conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. We staffed the organizational booth for our Respondersafety.com group.

I went back and forth about how to bring these ideas to you. I battled myself to a draw and then decided to let these thoughts lie for a bit. I was not sure where I was going to go with them. It was a real quandary.

However, as usual, it took the skillful oratory of Reverend Scott Brown of the Colts Neck Reformed Church to bring some sense and direction to my random musings a couple of Sundays ago. Part of his message to us that day was based upon the Biblical warning that a house built upon sand will wash away at the first sign of heavy rain. That makes real sense if you think about it.

Each of us should seek to build the house of our earthly life upon the solid rock of faith and planning. Unfortunately, too many among us seek to build the house of our lives upon the sands of expediency; rather than the solid rock of knowledge and honesty. This means that far too many of us take the easy way out when it comes to the planning for and living of our lives.

It also means that some folks out there are simply not laying out plans for their lives. They take each day as a separate entity with no thought to the creation of a plan for the living of their lives. All of this leads me to the basic theme of this visit with you.

So here is my question for you. How firm a foundation are you building for the life that you are living? Anyway my friends back to Dallas for the telling of the rest of this story.

The pressure on Jack and I was tremendous, as all of our associates from Delaware were enjoying the annual convention of the Delaware Volunteer Fireman's Association in Dover. He and I had to do the work of many men. Thankfully we had the help of our Director of Training, Jack Sullivan.

Folks, I want you to know that it was tough. Three men were called upon to do the work of a normal cast of about a dozen people (or characters as they say in the movies). The stress was great, but we were tough. We were up to the task. However at the close of business, we also knew how to handle our stress with equal amounts of stress relief.

One of the great stress relief practices which Jack and I have come to rely upon over our decades of convention attendance is a post-event trip to the bar after the exhibit hall closes for the day. Let me point out the interesting part of this particular approach to the living of life. It should be noted that I rarely hoist an alcoholic libation for any reason. My theory is simple indeed. Why waste calories on liquids. Perhaps that is why I look forward to those rare, convention-related occasions when I hoist a libation.

Like I said, normally I do not like to waste calories on liquid refreshments, but what the heck, it was a convention. Anyway, Jack Peltier, Jack Sullivan and I were holding court in the second-floor bar of the Hyatt Regency Dallas. We were meeting and greeting our fellow convention attendees to beat the band. Jack taught me a long time ago to pick a prominent location, park my carcass, and smile a lot. Believe me when I say that this is a great way to meet people.

At some particular point that evening, a young lad decked out in the business finery of a Hyatt representative came up to us and began to strike up a conversation. He asked about our convention and whether we liked our accommodations and the food at the restaurants. We did hesitate to share our views, all of which were quite good actually. Jack and I are fairly forthcoming when asked for our opinions.

As is my way I began to counter the young lad's questions with a number of questions of my own. That is a tactic I learned from my dear friend Dr. Denis Onieal. I have long taught my students that one of the best ways to learn about anything in this life is to ask questions. The results of our interaction left me impressed with this young man's view of life and his approach to creating a career in the hotel industry.

This fellow's name is Michael Kramer. He is in the Hyatt training program. During the course of our interaction, it came out that he held bachelors degrees in hotel management, as well as in the culinary arts. He took the time to lay out an excellent description of the Hyatt chain's rotational training program for the two Jacks and me. He spoke of the varied experiences he was receiving in each of the operational areas of a major hotel.

Mike then went on to explain how he felt that he wanted his career to play out. He spoke of a ten-year period where he would move through a series of roles in the corporation where his experience and drive had the potential to propel him to ever-more-responsible positions. He would advance based upon his performance.

My friends, I was impressed with the plan he had created for his life. It would appear that Michael Kramer is working on building a life upon the firm foundation of knowledge, desire, and foresight. He is to be applauded for his efforts. In speaking with Michael's supervisors at the Hyatt, I commended him to them.

Each of his supervisors spoke of the way in which their corporation worked to expose their trainees to each part of the business. Over time, the successful people in the program are allowed to move into the area which interests them the most.

One of these supervisors, Jay Tadros, the food and beverage manager for the hotel spoke of his career within the Hyatt Corporation. He spoke of the fact that he was allowed to earn his way upward by creating successful teams in the areas which he managed.

Jay spoke of the fact that Michael had already announced his intention to move into the food and beverage area of the operation. Both of these men appear to have a solid handle on where they want their career to go. Are you as positive about how you want your journey through the fire service to progress?

Let me now take the time to contrast the story of these two men with the experience of a friend who has asked me to keep him as an anonymous source for this article. He spoke of the fact that his son had developed a deep and abiding desire to become a career firefighter.

The lad set out a plan to prepare himself for this task, and then accomplished each part of the plan in its turn. Not too shabby right? As far as it went, it was a good plan. The lad is now a career firefighter. When last his father asked him about his plans for the future, the young man was clueless. He had no plans to prepare for advancement. He loves his job, but does not have a plan for his future. That is troubling.

Back in the days when I was hanging off the back of Engine Company 11 in Newark, I was hatching a plan for my future. One of my captains actively mentored me and guided me in the direction of studying for Captain. I saw myself in the faraway future as a chief of some level.

My wife and parents supported my efforts to prepare for the future. Countless nights were spent in class at Jersey City State College. In 1976 I was one of the four people who received the first bachelor's degrees in fire safety administration in New Jersey. Perhaps you know one of my classmates who received his degree with me back at the old Roosevelt Field in Jersey City. His name is Denis Onieal and he has gone on to achieve great things in the American Fire Service.

Denis and I both had plans for the future. Both of us worked, studied, and sacrificed in pursuit of our goals. I believe that we have achieved a great deal for two guys from big cities in New Jersey. The foundations of our professional houses are firm indeed.

However, the story does not end here. On the flight back to Newark from Dallas I had the rare privilege of interacting with someone well outside of my normal social and professional services; a man with vast experience at the highest levels of some of America's largest financial institutions.

He is currently the Chief Administrative Officer with a New York-based international financial firm that manages assets in excess of $1.3 trillion in 50 countries around the world. This was the man who advised President Bush that the stock market could not open as quickly as he wanted after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

He was also a man who was working a couple of buildings over from the World Trade Center when the terrorist hit on September 11, 2001. This man and I chatted for more than two hours on the flight back from Dallas. I was like a small child at the foot of the master as he spoke of the events of that tragic day more than five years ago.

During the course of our discourse I mentioned the story of Mike Kramer from the Hyatt Hotel in Dallas. This gentleman smiled a bit and then launched into an explanation of his approach to managing and leading people.

He stated that his role as an upper-level administrator was to create opportunities for people to succeed. His opinion of the rotational system for the Hyatt trainees was somewhat negative. He mentioned that while it seemed like a good idea to expose people to the various parts of the operation, it was his opinion that a person would be more successful operating in an area of their own choosing.

Basically people will gravitate toward those things that interest them. It was his contention that an organization needs to create operational opportunities for success. People should be trained, nurtured, and supported. He then mentioned that his mentor had brought him along this way and that he was impressed by the manner in which he was allowed to develop. He spoke of being a success merchant.

My trip to Dallas was meaningful to me on many levels. As I have often written, my life has been lived according to a series of goals; some written and some hidden within the recesses of my brain. While I might not have achieved all of my goals, I have probably traveled a lot further down the road to success than had I not chosen to create that road.

True, there are many things beyond our control in this life. However, it seems that as I have lived my life, a number of things have contributed to my success. I believe that I share these attributes with Mike Kramer, and the Chief Administrative Office with whom I shared a Continental Airlines ride home.

  • Never forget your family.
  • Set goals for yourself.
  • Get an education that helps point you toward your goals.
  • Set priorities for your life.
  • Do your job well.
  • Offer to assist others when the opportunities present themselves.
  • Keep your eyes on the goals you have set for yourself.

It seems to me that these seven ingredients could form the basis of a firm foundation for each of you. Do not leave the future to chance. I would hate to arrive at the final day of my life and decide that I had accomplished nothing. Create that firm foundation and then live your life with a purpose. Do not wait for the future. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

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