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The Story of One Man's Mission Trip

Many have been the times when it has been my honor and privilege to write about the ideas which I have conceived during one of the worship services at the Colts Neck Reformed Church. I have come to believe that I have two really great thinking spots for me here on God's Green Earth. The first is my beloved front porch, the source for the title of this blog. The second is in church: in the House of the Lord.

Let me stress my belief in the importance of both places. I say this because many of the same things I have been experiencing idea-wise in Colts Neck also happened many times during the years my family and I spent at the Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold, New Jersey: our former congregation. Those of you who have been with me over the long haul know this to be true.

One of my favorite commentaries from those days is entitled "The Rock and the Basketball." This piece spoke of the strength of the large rock which I found in a most unlikely place in the church parking lot and the pathos of the deflated basketball which I saw out by our church mail box shortly after seeing the rock. I wrote about how the strength each of us has should be used to assist those around us who, like the woebegone basketball, were down on their luck and suffered from a sense of deflated personal worth.

Let me share an important fact about the church wherein my family and I worship. The Colts Neck Reformed Church is mission-oriented. We see our role as showing our faith through the sharing of our time, talents, and treasures with others in the world. One of the primary attributes of our congregation which really impresses me is the number of times that our church members have ventured forth into the world to practice their faith by helping others in an up-close and hands-on manner.

Sadly, I lack any of the requisite mechanical skills to assist in these projects. I mean, how many sandwiches, cups of coffee, and bottled water do people need in a given day. Sorry, but that is the extent of what I can provide. As a matter of fact, my wife suggests that a day of real hard work might possibly kill me. I don't know about that, but let me assure you that my skills in the world of physical labor, where they exist, are practically nonexistent. My family shoos me off when physical labor tasks creep up over the horizon. However, I do what I can to provide support in other ways when asked.

Recently Chris Van DeBunte, our associate pastor, led a mission trip to the Chicago area for our senior youth group. A total of 40 people, counting the chaperons, enjoyed the bus trip out to the Midwest so that they could assist in renovations at a summer camp in that area. It always amazes me that in today's world we still have such fine sharing and caring people who will take time out of their lives to help others.

As I listened to Pastor Brown speak of the importance of mission and out reach to our church it suddenly dawned on me. In spite of the fact that I have no marketable, mechanical skills to use, I think that I have in fact been on a mission trip of a sort for many decades now. The difference is that in my case I have been sharing my faith in the need for training and continuing education in the fire service world, rather than in the sharing and spreading of my faith in the Lord. However, it is my hope that the latter shine through as I work to deliver the former.

I like to think back to the folks who helped me to see the path I should follow. In one way or another, I have been involved with instructor-related matters for the better part of four decades. Thanks to Roger McGary, my friend, former college instructor, and mentor, I got involved with the New Jersey Society of Fire Service Instructors not longer after I graduated from Jersey City State College in 1976.

At the time Roger was the fire chief at the Rahway facility of the Merck Chemical Company and President of the state chapter of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. It was a combination of his skill as an instructor and his enthusiasm for the fire service that drew me into his love for the world of teaching. I was also impressed by Jim MacKenzie, another fine instructor and Roger's associate at Merck.

These two men set the standard by which I have tried to live my life as a purveyor of knowledge and experience. It is important to point out that Roger later rose to become President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He was a man who led by example and a man whose methods and approach to training I have tried to emulate for a long time.

These two men have been on a mission for decades now. I have tried to follow the path that they have broken. Let me ask you to pause for a moment and ponder your personal commitment to training and education. Do you put your whole heart into being a part of your organization's training effort? Do you walk the walk or just talk the talk? This can be a problem. I do not care how long you have been in the business. You must train to hone and maintain the skills you will need.

My friends, I try to make as many fire company drills as I can here in Adelphia. However, because of my traveling schedule, my tuba-playing exploits, and my consulting efforts, I am not able to make them all. At my age, I have pretty much limited my emergency response efforts to driving the apparatus and supply logistical support as the situation dictates.

Let me also tell you that it has been my practice for the past several years to remind my chief officers of the fact that I think the actual conduct of firefighting, rescue, and extrication operation requires people much younger than I. I do not wish to become a statistic because I have died doing something best left to a younger and more in-shape person. I do not want to get in the way of a younger person who can do what I can do in a better, safer, or more efficient manner.

However, I still make it a practice to attend as many of the hands-on drills as I can. I try to give the younger guys and gals the benefits of my decades of firefighting experience. It is important to note that I do not try to force it on them, but make myself available to them. If they want to ask questions, I am there to provide the answers. In no way do I wish to do anything which would give the least impression of trying to undercut the training efforts of our fire company officers.

To me, being a knowledgeable resource is an important part of the world of coaching and mentoring to which I belong. It is also part of the manner in which I hope to share the knowledge which serves as the basis for my personal mission trip through the fire service world. Many times something I did, saw, performed or experienced in Newark many years ago makes its way into an Adelphia-based operation. Heck, there are even times when my old U.S. Air Force training and experience from the 1960's can be brought to bear on a current problem. Life is, after all, cyclical.

Life has been good to me my friends. It has been my good fortune to have been able to share my knowledge with members of the fire service in many different states (33) and Canadian provinces (3). Let me stress to you that in my quest to share my knowledge with others that it has been my good fortune to learn more than I have been able to impart. People have been both kind and generous in the sharing of their experiences with me. Yes my friends, my mission journey has taken me all across our great nation.

From my first major speaking assignment at the 1979 Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) in Memphis, Tennessee, through my journey to the Wisconsin Fire Chief's Conference in June of 2012 the feelings of accomplishment which I have enjoyed have made my efforts all the more meaningful to me. I am looking forward to at least a half dozen more trips as we move toward 2013.

Let me suggest that I need your help. As a man who is now Medicare eligible, I am certain of the fact that I need to mobilize as many of you as possible to take up the cause of fire service training and education. Heck it might even be that one of you out there in "reader land" is going to be my replacement. I know a great many fine folks who are deeply committed to the world of training and education like my buddies Dr. Rich Gasaway, Billy Goldfeder, Rick Lasky, and Dr. Denis Onieal to name just a few.

Their sharing and caring approach to their work warms my heart. People in a wide variety of places are the beneficiaries of the hard work of these dedicated souls. However, the reality of the situation is that for as many people as we have on this important mission trip, the needs exceed our ability to supply. We need literally thousands more of you to take up the banner of training and education.

Take a moment. Think about my challenge. Then if you feel the call, please mount up on your valiant white charger and ride out to join me on my Mission Trip to spread knowledge. I can promise you nothing more than hard work, a few bumps and many bruises. Oh and yes, a few really soaring moments of joy when things work out your way. Many are called, but few and chosen to join my merry throng of fire service educational missionaries. Think about and then make the call.