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There are so many good things that the fire service can be doing. I guess a great deal of my frustration comes from the fact that far too many people fail to see the seriousness of what we do. I am not against fun, far from it. There is a time for frivolity and a time for serious action. Far too many do not know when it is time to address the second thought.
To these people, the fire service is all about fun and games. These are the people to whom training is an alien concept. These are the people who would rather party than practice their skills. There are many good parts to being a member of the fire service. There are the sports team and the parades, the ceremonies and the parties. These all serve to build our team, but they are not the be all and end all of what we do.
However, I want to stress to you that there are also the duties that we each owe to our communities, the fire department, the fire service and each other. Sadly, perhaps it is the last among those duties that occasionally falls by the wayside. We forget that we are members of a team. We forget that, as team members, each of us depends on the other person when the chips are down.
Perhaps it is the brushes with death that I have experienced during the past 37 years that have made me more attuned to the serious nature of our business. Perhaps it is the number of friends I’ve lost to death in the line of duty that made me this way. What I do know is that death can be sudden and seemingly random, and is always permanent.
Let me confess one of my greatest shortcomings: the longer I live, the less I seem to know, or at least feel like I know. Every time I learn something new, five or 10 or 20 other things pop up. I guess that it is this thought, among many others, that makes me wonder whether I am truly qualified to be giving advice to anyone. I guess you could say that I believe in what I am doing, but I just need some help in believing. Your feedback in the form of e-mails is most comforting, but I sometimes wonder whether I am trying to push you all in the wrong direction.
As I was channel surfing on my TV, I came across a speaker discussing the muddled values of our 21st century society. This man spoke of how the world is less defined than it once was. He spoke of how things were once viewed in the clear tones of black and white, right and wrong. He then spoke of how our nation is obsessed with not offending anyone, and with stroking every ego. This has led, he posited, to a muddying of the waters. This man then went on to define his thoughts on what is right and wrong in society. He suggested that we need to define for ourselves how we stand according to the great moral rights of history. He then defined his beliefs for his audience.
Perhaps that is what I am doing for my audience. I am sharing my view of the world with you. I frequently speak and write about the need to believe in things in life that are bigger than ourselves. I see the fire service as a large band of brave and unselfish people. It set us all and all that we do up on a great pedestal. I believe in the rightness of our mission. To those who agree with me and urge me on, I say thank you. To those who castigate me and question my motives, I can only suggest that I do what I do in line with the beliefs I have developed.
Perhaps it is fitting to close this month with a set of promises to you, my friend and reader. I promise to be:
If these promises seem familiar to you, then you know where I got my start. If they do not, I suggest that you stop a Boy Scout and ask him.
Thank you for being with me on my journey.
Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is a former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Dr. Carter is an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. A fire commissioner for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through his website at Dr.Carter@HarryCarter.com.