Command Post: On the Road, Again

Let me start by saying that my son-in-law recently told me about attending a Bob Dylan concert. We discussed the man’s music and the lyrics of a number of his songs. I spoke of one of my favorite lines from his work that tells us “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” – a snippet of musical history that will always remain right and relevant.

Given the way people are attacking my beloved fire service, I worry about where we will be in a few years. But that does not mean I will give up the battle for the future of our service. With that in mind and with apologies to Willie Nelson, let me announce that come June 2013, I will be “on the road again.” Yes, once again it is time to announce a Harry Carter Road Trip. This will replace the trip I had to cancel because of the serious illness of my friend and traveling companion, Jack Peltier of Marlborough, MA. He is well and it is our intention to hit the road on or about June 1, 2013. June is normally a quiet month for me, as it is between band seasons. However, it is my desire to be back in time for the outdoor summer band season with the famed Ocean Grove Summer Band in New Jersey, which guides the timing of this trip.

Seeing what works

My mission will be similar to the theme of my highly successful 2006 Road Trip. As before, I want to meet the real members of the American fire service and speak with them about their concerns, problems, solutions and successes, as well as their failures. However, things will be a bit different in 2013. This time, Jack and I will be joined by Ken McMahon, a former chairman of the Delaware State Fire Commission and a long-time friend. It is our intention to meet with people who can share stories of successes based in particular on grants received from the FIRE Act program. Ken is a chief emeritus and life member of the Christiana, DE, Fire Department.

Let me assure you that Jack and I learned a great many lessons from the manner in which we conducted our last road trip. This time, Jack, Ken and I will be driving from the East Coast to our nation’s midsection. I already have tentative visits lined up at county and state events in Illinois and South Dakota. Given the greater distances between cities and towns in the Midwest, we intend to set up fewer stops, but we want to meet more people at each location.

As I review the map, it looks like we would like to visit Illinois, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

There a few folks in my regrets file from the 2006 trip and the planned 2010 trip that did not happen and I would like to hear from them. There were also invitations to fire conventions in Montana and South Dakota. If you recall making these invitations in 2006 and 2010, please let me know if the welcome mat is still out. I have also made a connection with the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts for its 2013 conference in Springfield. I am due to speak there on June 21.

My many friends in the fire apparatus and equipment manufacturing world are once again stepping up to the plate to help us meet the costs of this journey. We will raise the necessary funds to make this trip happen. However, why am I doing this, you might ask? Why are Ken, Jack and I taking a month out of our collective lives to travel and meet with you?

The answer is simple. We all believe in the worth of the FIRE Act. We have seen its impact up close and personal. We are well aware of the importance of this legislation. However, there are those who want to see it go away. There are also those who want to see it changed so that nameless and faceless bureaucrats are allowed to make the decision on who gets what. As one who was in the mix at the very beginning of this program back in the late 1990s, I know what was agreed to. I was a party to the development of the program, and while I am no longer on the inside, I like to think that my friends and I have a fairly good handle on what is happening.

Why we need this trip

Back in 2006, Jack and I saw people whose fortunes were changed. However there are still those who are seeking to carve up the FIRE Act money to suit their own needs. I am not happy with several of the moves that are being made at the national level, but am powerless to do much other than shine the bright light of public awareness onto the things that are happening.

Let me also make you aware of the fact that there are those people who have said the program should not have been created in the first place. Apparently, these folks do not get around much. Let me assure you that I have taken a certain amount of flack for my support and promotion of the FIRE Act program. But I am a big boy. I can take the heat.

However, Jack and I saw the results of this outstanding program at the grassroots level. We saw people who were sharing turnout gear and driving vehicles that should have been in the junkyard a long time ago. We saw people who did not have a sufficient number of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to mount any sort of interior fire attack. And we saw people who were able to provide a better level of training thanks to the programs and equipment funded by the FIRE Act.

Sad to say, but the fire service in America is taken for granted by the vast majority of the citizens in our nation. There are administrators who think that sending two old guys out in a red pickup truck is adequate fire protection. Oh, people will praise the daylights out of us on the surveys that ask people about their opinions of their fire department. Unfortunately, when we ask them to fund our operations, or volunteer to join with us in the delivery of our critical infrastructure protective service, we get an overwhelmingly cold shoulder. Worse yet, when they need us, they are all over us like a cheap suit if we fail to be on location in 45 seconds.

The problem here is that when I write for Firehouse.com, I am in fact engaging in that ancient and honorable art known in religious circles as “preaching to the choir.” Except that many within the choir are not reading off the same sheet of music that you and I are using. I promise I will keep writing to direct us all to a common ground for this battle.

Let’s get together

There you have it. I believe in the value of the FIRE Act and it is my intention to travel to the middle of our great nation to meet with fire departments that have achieved success through the receipt of FIRE Act grants. I am working on planning this trip a lot sooner than the last one. We threw that one together in about 45 days. This time around, I want to plan things a little bit better.

If you want me to visit with you, please contact me at drharrycarter@optonline.net. We are also looking for support from you and your organizations whenever possible. I can assure you that any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Thank you. n

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