Why Do We Do It?

Sometimes, we as individuals and groups need to take stock of just who we are, what it is that we do and, perhaps most importantly, why we do it. That time for me seems to be now. After 25 years of service to the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, I am...


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Sometimes, we as individuals and groups need to take stock of just who we are, what it is that we do and, perhaps most importantly, why we do it. That time for me seems to be now.

After 25 years of service to the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, I am faced with the notion of organizational mortality. Should I stay with the gang in the firehouse or move out into the great faceless throng of retired fire people? What a major-league dilemma.

Like any good organizational theorist, I have been spending a great deal of time and energy reviewing my options over the past several weeks. A large number of Newark fire people will have retired by the time you read this. Two of these people joined the department in the same recruit class as me. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I am really one of the old timers now. Oh no, what should I do?

Something then happened that help me to clear up my mind. Let me share it with you. For you see, no one, not even the illustrious Dr. Carter, is unique. Perhaps my ruminations can help you understand your place in life.

A short time ago, I attended the 75th Anniversary Memorial Communion Service of the Newark Fire Department's Holy Name Society. This is an ancient and honorable tradition in our department. My brother and I, though not of the Catholic faith, are loyal members of the Holy Name. As such, we consider it a duty to attend. Being among the on-duty chiefs (Bob is in Battalion Four and I am in Battalion One), we were located in the back of the cathedral, so that we could duck out if any alarms were transmitted.

I always get a little teary-eyed at these events, for I just cannot shut off my mind. As the service went on, I began to wax introspective. I am at a critical juncture in my life. I am over 50, my buddies are starting to retire and I seem to be surrounded by a whole new generation of the Newark Fire Department.

Should I retire? Should I stay? This question had been running around in my brain for months, particularly as a staff member, subject to the daily grind of the office environment. Until you personally face this decision, you will not understand the enormity of it. Retirement forces you to think, to move in new directions and leave the comfortable halls of your old haunts.

The questions which have gone through my mind are many:

  • Am I still contributing to the life of the department?
  • Can I still do the job?
  • Am I a hindrance to anyone or anything?
  • Do I still get a thrill out of coming to work?
  • Is the fun at work worth the commute?

On it went. Perhaps I tend to over-think things, but that is just my way. The memories and the questions began to blur.

Back to the Annual Memorial Communion Mass. The purpose of this annual service is to pause for a moment and remember those who have gone before us all in the great blue-uniformed lineage of the Newark Fire Department. A truly moving moment comes when the names of those who have passed on since last year's memorial service are read. At this time, the names are read from the pulpit, a firefighter responds solemnly with the word "absent" and a fire bell is sounded. Trust me when I say that many tears are shed at this time. This seemed like the perfect moment for me to take stock of who I am and why I am a firefighter.

As the names were read, they came to my first captain at Engine Company 11. As Pete's name was read, and the memorial bell sounded, my thoughts drifted back more than 25 years to my arrival at the fire station as a probationary firefighter reporting in for my first day of duty. Pete was a real nice guy who took pains to welcome me aboard. Of course, it didn't hurt that I had been an auxiliary firefighter with that station for a couple of years prior to actually joining the department. What did I know? I was just a kid with four years' experience as an Air Force firefighter and a two-year college degree.

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