Let me begin this month’s column by issuing a long-overdue tip of the helmet to you, the reader of my bi-monthly trip to the top of my favorite soapbox. Every other month, Firehouse® Magazine grants me the privilege of sharing a little bit of my life with you. A great many of you have...
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That evening, my captain saw that all was not well with his newest rookie. After a little while, I was more than willing to share my sad story with him. He didn’t say much. He just sat there puffing his pipe, deep in thought. About an hour later, I was sitting at the watch desk when the deputy’s car rolled up to the front of the station. It seems that the captain had called the deputy to tell him of my tale of woe.
The deputy sat down with me at the watch desk and engaged me in a man-to-man talk about my state of marital depression. The gist our conversation was that he remembered how it was as a newlywed, how much he loved his wife, and how hard is was to work an 84-hour shift and fan the flames of romance. He left saying that he would see what he could do.
Somehow, he talked the fire chief into letting me use vacation time that I would not earn for months into the future. First thing in the morning, I called the hotel in the Bahamas, Eastern Airlines, the guy my wife’s college roommate was seeing and my Dad for a ride to the airport. By 4 P.M. the next day, I was in the Bahamas with my wife. And the rest, as they say, is blissful history.
Chief Moran and my captain did not have to do what they did for me, but they were kind and thoughtful men. They were people for whom you really wanted to work. They did not break the regulations for me; however, I am sure that a bit of a bend was made in the department’s vacation policy.
This is one of the many life experiences that have shaped me and made me what I am today. There have also been many occasions when I have been able to repay that gift of human kindness given to me early in my career. A similar story comes from the years when I pursued my bachelor’s degree in fire safety at Jersey City State College.
I was a firefighter at Engine Company 11. As a member of the First Battalion, I worked under the command of Battalion Chief Richard Hettinger. He was a good chief, from the old school: he was strict, but fair and one of the best fireground chiefs I ever met.
I was having trouble trying to keep up with my studies at Jersey City State and my duties at Engine Company 11. Chief Hettinger let me take my personal days off in hours, rather than days and nights – and I have a hunch that he slipped me an extra hour now and then. Thanks to his concern for me, I was able to complete my bachelor of science degree on time and on target. Once again, an act of kindness came my way. As I said, the best way to repay a gift is to keep on giving. This is how I have tried to live my life as a captain, and as a chief.
I have been blessed to work with some outstanding people over the years. My job is to share with you what they have taught me. Thanks to the fine folks at Firehouse® Magazine, I have the privilege of sharing the events that have shaped my career. Sometimes they are happy, sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are smart, and sometimes they are stupid. But they have all had an impact. And they have all had a part in shaping me as a fire officer. I just hope that they will continue to help you face the problems which come your way. That’s the reason for this column – this public soapbox.
Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., MIFireE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. He is also an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark 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). He may be contacted through his website at Dr.Carter@HarryCarter.com.