Active Interaction: The First Step to Fire Department Success

Dr. Harry Carter discusses why firefighters and company officers need to use active interaction to create a positive learning enviornment at the firehouse.


As of this week, it has been my privilege to serve in the fire and emergency world now for 50 years. From my first ride on an ambulance in Freehold, N.J. back in 1964 to my latest trip out of the front door with the Adelphia Fire Company last night, I have had what I believe to be one heck of a journey. From my basic fire training recruit courses (all four) to the heights of my doctoral career, education and training have been an integral part of all which I have accomplished.

So that's it my friends. I now am privileged to know all that there is to know. There is no more for me to learn. I have climbed to the heights of Mount Knowledge and intend to set up my camp chair and look out over the grand vistas of my existing knowledge, with no further need to crack a book, go to a class, or attend a seminar. WRONG! My friends, it is my hope that the day never arrives when I am stupid enough to believe such absolute foolishness.

Let me share a few thoughts with you about the importance of learning to live here in the world of the 21st Century in general. I say this for a reason. As I move through my seventh decade of life I now understand what a man told me long ago. Life is a journey and on any journey you will need the guidance of a map. Let me assure you that it is knowledge which serves as that map for us each of us as we move through life. No matter what we do we must gain and share knowledge in order to pursue success in our chosen fields. It is this interaction, this sharing of thoughts and knowledge, which serves to build the boundaries of our lives, as well as allow us to move on toward the future in an orderly and productive manner.

So it is with each member of your fire department. Although all of us shares a part of the common burdens of our fire departments, and each of us is different, one from the other. As we work through the magic of the active interaction with one another to which I make reference, we must understand that every person is different. We have grown to adulthood ion different ways and have accumulated differing amounts of education and experience. While we all must act in common ways for the common good of our departments, each of us arrived on the doorstep of our department via a different route.

Think about it. Some people are the product of a standard nuclear family, one with a mother, a father and possibly a sibling or two. This situation created a family environment wherein we matured and grew. Would you think that someone growing up in a single parent household would share your experiences? What about those who came through the foster child system or were orphaned at an early age and raised by other relatives, or "the system," whatever that might be? I agree with the sociologists who speak to the differences between these many groups. Each of us is a unique product of the environment wherein we grew up.

Let us take a look at this from another direction. I grew up in a somewhat rural farming area back in the 1950's and 1960's. Were my experiences different from those who grew to adulthood in a suburban environment? How about in a city? Once again the sociologists and I are in agreement. Having worked in the Newark Fire Department with guys who grew up in the city, I would tend to agree with the experts. Our individual experiences were different and our approach to life was not always the same. But somehow we managed to come together successfully as we all labored in the vineyards of the Newark Fire Department. The same has held true over my 40-plus years as a member of the Adelphia Fire Company here in Howell Township, N.J.

It is my opinion that we must come together in what I have chosen to label a process of "active interaction." Each of us must learn to actively listen to the words of those around us. We must then actively share our thoughts and experiences with our fellow travelers. Let me strongly suggest that it is critical for each of us to weigh the worth of the thoughts of others which we hear. We need to not just listen, but actually hear the guts of the discussions of their experiences in order to be able to mine for the gold of their personal wisdom.

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