Once again my friends it is that time when the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association (CVVFA) comes together for its annual convention. This year was the 113th edition and it was held in Chambersburg, Pa. Chambersburg is an important part of the history of our organization for it was here that the organization was formed and where it held its first convention.
Our meetings were supported by the fire departments in the area. Our Thursday events were held at the Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Company (VFC) in Fayetteville. Our Friday events were hosted by the Chambersburg Fire Department. The convention attendance was the best that I have seen in a number of years and the support from the area fire departments was exemplary. It is always a good time when friends come together to share their time, talents, and energies,
After the Thursday morning CVVFA business session we all hiked up the hill behind the Fayetteville VFC social hall to attend our annual memorial service at the Otterbein-Fayetteville United Methodist Church. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a lovely breeze wafting through the church. My dear friend Deacon Charlie Barnhart gave us a masterful sermon which revolved around the old spiritual hymn, Amazing Grace. As is my way, I kept my notebook at the ready as the service went along.
It was originally my intention to work my commentary around the concept of Amazing Grace. There is so much you can say about being lost and then found; about being blind and now being able to see. I know that I have felt lost many times and have great when I was actually found again. However, the Lord had something else in mind for me this day. The words let me to my destination.
As the passages from the Bible were being read, my mind began to drift back over the years. Many thoughts were spinning around through my mind’s eye. Perhaps it was the Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes that set my thought processes running in high gear. This particular passage speaks to the fact that there is a time (or a season) for everything. “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under Heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted…”
In the years of my faraway youth at Southern Freehold Regional High School back in 1964-1965, one of the popular songs of the time spoke to these very words. It was the Bryds who brought the popular song to life entitled, “There is a Season.” When you think about it, life is a series of seasons. We have the seasons of winter, summer, spring, and fall. Each presents us with a different type of weather and actually sets a different mindset within us.
There are a number of seasons in each of our lives. First you are an infant and then you become a child. You become a teenager and then you grow into adulthood. You pass from immaturity to maturity. And at some point you will grow to enter an elderly season and then pass on to eternal life. All of the seasons in your life are obvious, set, and well-defined.
My friends, so too is it this way for you as you live your life in the fire service. There really is a time for each season in your career. You are born into the fire service when you graduate from recruit training. You enter our world ready to play your part. How well you are trained and how well you are nurtured helps to chart the course of the career you will pursue.
There is research which indicates that it is the quality of your nurturing which will determine your success. The findings of this research actually suggested that good people who are tossed into a bad organization will eventually go bad themselves. Let me suggest that the opposite is equally true. Let suggest that this is another version of the findings of my doctoral dissertation which suggested that bad leaders are actually driving good people away from their fire departments.
While I was listening to Chaplain Charlie’s sermon the thought came to me that as you pass through the season of your infancy in the fire service you will then move into your time as a journeyman working at your craft. This will hopefully be a smooth shift in your career. During this season, you will perform as you are expected to, you will play your role, and the people upon whom you must depend will them know that they can depend upon you. After a suitable period of practice, you will find yourself in the mature season of your life. When you reach this stage your mission will become more subdued and advisory in nature.
Let me assure you that change is a constant in each of our lives. As you pass through your career many changes will happen, life is like that. However, most of these changes are so small and incremental that you may never even see the blip on your personal radar screen. So do not be surprised when something pops up as a change in your life. But do not let it knock you off track. Stay the course and move confidently through this season of your career.
Change is constant as you travel down the road of life right on through to your season of maturity; to what I see as the final season of our active careers. I am in this stage right now. It might be hard for some of you folks to believe but I am still an active firefighter at the age of 67. I do not actually don the gear and enter the burning buildings any longer. Neither do I cut up cars or carry heavy things. But I do operate the pumpers, move the water, and support the everyday operations of the Adelphia Fire Company by freeing up the younger people to do the heavy physical tasks. This is indeed a pleasing season for me.
It is in this present stage of my life that I have come to a true understanding of what the grace in Amazing Grace is all about. In its purest sense ‘grace’ is all about love. In the church world we refer to importance of God’s grace (love) in our lives. Let me suggest that it is critical for you to cause the concept of grace to come alive in your own life. As a member your fire department’s team, you need to develop a love and respect for your fellow travelers.
Rest assured that this will not be an easy thing for you to do. There are those people who seem to have made it their life’s work to become "un-loveable" people. I see these folks everywhere that I go. As a matter of fact when I see them in the audience at my various speaking engagements I take it as a challenge. I do not shy away from their challenge. My goal is simple. I want to make those grumpy Gus people crack at least one smile during my presentation. Rarely do I fail in my mission to spread love and respect. That is the mission for me in my current season.
Let me suggest to you that the final season of life comes to us when we finally cross through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to join with our Father in Heaven. Many among you may dispute that this commentary is relevant to the fire service. I think that it is, but maybe you do not. So it has been throughout the many eons of time my friends. There have been believers and non-believers.
Folks I can only take the fire service horse to the mystical source of the waters of life. It is up to each and every one of you to make your own choice as to whether you should drink from it or not. Let me urge you to pause for a sip.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.