The Past: Roadblock, Help, or Hindrance?

Our world is in a constant state of flux. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is constant. In the world of 2002, it is possible to expect almost anything to happen. How unlike the time and place where many of us grew to adulthood, is this America of 2002. We...


Our world is in a constant state of flux. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is constant. In the world of 2002, it is possible to expect almost anything to happen. How unlike the time and place where many of us grew to adulthood, is this America of 2002.

We are all the offspring of that generation which spent their lives in a search for peace, stability, and prosperity. To many they are now known as the Greatest Generation. Collectively they grew out of the depression and conquered fascism. This is the generation that is now passing from the scene.

Stability was also portrayed as the hallmark of Dwight Eisenhower?s years in the White House. Whether that is a true assessment of life in the 1950?s is now problematic; an issue left to be studied by historians. Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had lived through truly challenging times where change was a constant. It would appear that they craved stability and prosperity.

The television shows of my youth celebrated the stability of the nuclear family. Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver seemed to show the world structure, stability, and permanency. Nevertheless, did these shows really portray a real life view of the world? My father seemed to know a great deal, but did he always know best? Ward and June might have left it to the Beaver, but Mom and Dad held a tight rein on my life. I do not seem to recall Ward beating Beaver?s butt. So were these shows real or did they portray a dream world as being the real McCoy.

Unfortunately, these shows also sowed the seeds of future problems by creating the thought within our youthful minds that things would always be the same. Everyone would always be together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Life with my friends in school would go on indefinitely. They really did not prepare either my generation or I for the challenges that seemed to take off like a rocket for outer space in the 1960?s.

Throughout my life, as well as throughout my career in the fire service, these twin forces of change and permanency have worked one against the other. There are those who proudly trumpet that the fire service represents " ? 350 years of tradition unimpeded by progress". On the other hand, there are those people who seemingly celebrate change every time they change their underwear. We in the fire service tend to think of ourselves as unique. Are we, really?

In the world of organizational design and development, change, and its management serve as a frequent, baseline topic of discourse among scholars. As a matter of fact, there is a wide range of views on what we in the fire service would seemingly think to be the same subject: change. Let me lay out the two extremes for you.

Let me offer an extreme view of the continuity and continuum of change as portrayed back in ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c.540 ? 480 B.C.) noted that, "You could not step twice into the same river[s]; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." If you think about it, he is right. The water that you stand in one moment is being replaced as you stand in it. It might be the mighty Mississippi, but it is never exactly the same water passing your feet.

At the other extreme, you have fire chiefs who run their fire departments as their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers did before them. This is true throughout the fire service, but more often encountered in the volunteer ranks. During a recent consulting job, I interviewed three generations of the same family. While this situation may bring comfort to the players in the game, it does little to allow for the nuances of change. The members of this agency expect everything to remain as it has for the past 60 years. This may not be a realistic attitude.

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