Look Back Toward the Future

It is time for another tale from the days of yesteryear. I believe that we must look back to what we did in the old days, if we are to get our bearings for the future.


It is time for another tale from the days of yesteryear. I believe that we must look back to what we did in the old days, if we are to get our bearings for the future. I also believe that we must assess who and what we were at that time. Only then can we can truly assess how far we have come. These two items are basic toward creating a proper journey toward the future.

Too often we fail to assess our success and languish in the world of false truths. We think that we are worse than we really are. In its own way, this is just as bad as thinking that we are better than we really are. We must tie the past to the present before we can hope to tie the present to the future. All of what was, is and will be lies on the same time continuum.

Let me begin by stating that we in the American Service are a proud lot. We are willing to match our skills against the ravages of fire, literally at the drop of a hat (or the shrill beeping of a pager). We have provided the guts and dedication. In a great many cases this has engendered the good will that we seek to enjoy.

However, I must ask a critical question at this juncture. Have we gone for the thrills, chills, and excitement at the expense of substance and credibility? Have we allowed people who were just the best firefighters to climb into roles of leadership for which they lacked any reasonable qualifications? Sadly, I would suggest that this has been the case in far too many places.

Think about it. It really does make sense. Is it really exciting to build a budget and then battle to see it enacted? How many times have you heard someone on the fire department radio net state that they were on the scene reporting a working budget battle? I would say never. We tend to shunt our management and administrative people toward the organizational sidelines in favor of the guts and glory response people.

This tendency to go for the excitement and glory of the emergency response world, rather than the boring sameness of the administrative side of the house has placed us in an unenviable position. We have seen countless overzealous mayors, city managers, and town council people seize control of the fire department. Why have we witnessed such a rise in the use of civilian police and fire directors? We have seen this because of the ability of the politician to control, hire and fire civilians.

I know this for a fact. Many of my years in the Newark Fire Department were spent laboring in the relative obscurity of a wide range of staff assignments. It turned out that I was good at budgeting and paperwork. Those skills caused me to be yanked out of my field assignments as a company officer and battalion commander on many occasions. Each time this occurred at the behest of the politically appointed civilian head of the department.

Like many of you, I would rather have been rolling out of the front door of the fire station chasing columns of smoke off in the distance. Fortunately, I wised up to the meaning of my duties. I was able to use my administrative skills for the good of my friends and associates that were doing the firefighting.

Sadly, the support for my efforts was lacking. These big bosses would always opt to back the politicians. Money would be shifted to the priorities laid out by the politicos. I cannot tell you how many trees were planted in the city thanks to fire department funds that were turned back by the politicians appointed to head the fire department. No one will ever know how many fire trucks were never purchased, so that there would be plenty of police cars and garbage trucks.

Political priorities almost always differ from reality. Those policies and programs created in the minds of the brilliant people that we elect to govern us rarely seem to bear any resemblance to reality. Should my comments seem cynical to you, you are to be commended for you ability to catch my drift.

This content continues onto the next page...