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Personal Beliefs are Life's Guideposts

Once again the genesis for this particular visit with you came to me during a sermon in church this past Sunday. This summer’s sermons are being based upon this week’s section of the creed and it happened to be the section which states, “…I believe in God the Father Almighty.” I reached for my note pad early in the service and began scribbling the notes for this commentary.

Let me begin this visit with you by offering to you the lyrics of a song which was quite popular back in the halcyon days of my youth back in the early 1950’s. This piece by the late Frankie Laine was entitled, “I Believe.”  There is one part of the lyrics which has stayed close to my heart for decades now. It goes like this; “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows; I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows. I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way. I believe, I believe.”

For my younger friends, I would point you to the covers of this song by the Bachelors in 1964, as well as the Lettermen and Elvis in the late 1960’s.  It is a song which for me has always carried a deep meaning.  I cannot imagine living a life where you do not have anything in which to believe, put your faith, or place your trust.  What a bleak and barren place that must be.

It has been my privilege to be a part of the American Fire Service since October of 1966 when I entered the U.S. Air Force Firefighting School which at that time was located at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Ill. Many have been the lessons learned; and many have been the joys experienced.  However, there has been one lesson which seems to have taken a lot of years to evolve.

Let me suggest to you that it is critical to explore ourselves in order to create a state of our internalized system of personal beliefs. Many times over the years I written of the lessons learned from my study of the works of Professor Donald Favreau back in the 1960’s. One of his primary findings, as stated in his text Fire Service Management (1969) is that before you can seek to lead others you must first come to know yourself.

One of the primary elements in coming to know yourself involves an understanding of those things which you believe.  Let me suggest that I will not presume to tell you what to believe. One’s beliefs are as personal a commodity as any other in your life. Your faith and your beliefs are your business.  However, it is my intention to share my beliefs with you as a sort of primer in such things as you need to consider for your own beliefs. 

It is essential for you to understand the importance of building your life and your fire service career on a solid foundation. It is the wise builder who constructs their home on a firm, level, and well-built underpinning. If it is that way in the construction of a dwelling place, so too should it be in the building and living of your life. 

Some among you might remember my Firehouse Expo, FDIC, and FRI seminar sessions on leadership wherein I shared my concept of the "personal moral compass," as lying at the heart of your individual belief system.  Let me suggest that my basic compass can be summed up by the words of a creed that I committed to memory as a young Boy Scout well over 50 years ago.  That creed states that a Scout is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind
  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent

These are all important qualities. Your use of them in the living of your life can make you a more productive person. They are all attributes which can strengthen you and make you a more effective member of your local fire department team. Plainly stated, they are just the right things to do and the right way to live. Who knows, maybe you will become a person that people like and upon whom they can depend. 

While many of you might choose to dismiss my views here as some sort of ‘rose-colored glasses, Pollyanna’ view of life, let me respectfully disagree with you. While you may see life as consisting of a pattern of doom and gloom dimly lit by a series of shades of grey, I disagree. I have humbly chosen to portray a different view to you which I have used to guide me along the way on my journey across the face of God’s Green Earth.

Let me begin by stating that my parents taught me by their example that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.  While it has never been my preference to choose the wrong way to do things, my actions have sometimes caused me to stray onto the wrong fork on the road of life.  Let me share with you that the experience of trying to find my way back to the right path has provided me with some challenging experiences. It is these occurrences which have equipped me with a better understanding of what actually constitute my personal beliefs.

Let me now devote a few words to presenting my most relevant personal beliefs with you.  They are:

  • A belief in God the Father Almighty; the Maker of Heaven and Earth
  • A belief in the importance of family
  • A belief in the basic goodness of humanity
  • A belief in the need for humility
  • A belief in the mission of the American Fire Service to protect life from the ravages of life (fire, disaster, accident, etc.)
  • A belief that my mission here on Earth has merit and that it is something to which I must devote all of my skills, knowledge, talents, and ability
  • A belief that we as a fire service should not spend human lives on property
  • A belief in the importance of knowledge as the basis for all we in the emergency service world ever hope to achieve
  • A belief that we must all practice what we preach
  • A belief that it is critical for each of us to understand the essence of the human spirit and its impact upon the world around us
  • A belief in my friends
  • A belief in my team and its individual members
  • A belief in the importance of experience in preparing us for what we intend to do in the future
  • A belief that it is critical for me to keep a cheery smile on my lips and a song in my heart
  • A belief in second chances and fresh starts
  • I possess a fervent belief that we must learn from our mistakes and not simply keep repeating them.  This is the experience to which I make reference and it is a commodity which becomes much more valuable when it is shared.
  • I also believe in the need to pause and spend time enjoying the world around me (read that as front porches and cigars).  

As was stated earlier in this visit with you, it is not my intention to tell you what to believe, but let me stress that you must believe in something.  However, let me suggest that life is best lived with a set of beliefs, rules, guidelines, and criteria to chart our course on our journey through life.  As that old beer commercial used to pound into our minds back in the 1970’s, you only get to go around once on this merry-go-round known as life.  After the better part of five decades in the fire business, I am here to tell you how right that commercial really was. Life is not a rehearsal for anything.

Many of my heroes in the fire service have passed on to their reward.  They are no longer here to exemplify the virtues of their beliefs.  Let me suggest that I have stepped forward from the throng to take this task upon my shoulders and move forward sharing what they taught me.  Guess what?  The beliefs I have shared above with you were taught to me by my parent and then honed and shaped by a wide variety of fire service personnel over the past 50 years. I am trying to live out the example which they lived out for me.

It should be noted that I have stripped away the negative examples and concentrated on all of the positive examples with which my life has been enriched.  There are enough negatives vibes floating in the air all around us.  Neither you nor I need to increase the volume of bad things going on in the world.  To this end I have adopted a very simple philosophy which I hope will keep my ship of life floating across the sea of life.  It is a simple, somewhat profane approach to how I should act.

Here it is. “Don’t be an ass----.” If you can commit these words to memory and live your life according to them then all of the beliefs in your life will develop clearly and allow you to live a successful, active, and productive life.  I am deadly serious here. I urge you to take great care to use this advice wisely and judiciously.  

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his "A View From my Front Porch" blog. You can reach Harry by e-mail at