As I was sitting on my front porch the other night, puffing on one of my favorite cigars, and enjoying a small glass of Port wine, my mind began to drift back over the years. I tend to do that quite a bit these days. However, it is not a waste of time to review and reevaluate one's approach to life. Some of my finest learning experiences have come from reviewing past joy and sorrows; past successes and failures; as well as past experiences which might have drifted to the back of our brains.
It was just one of these positive experiences that came back to me as I puffed and pondered out there in my thinking place. This particular event is not a recent experience, but it was one that had a great depth of meaning for me during my years in the Newark Fire Department. It was a wedding to which I had been invited by one of the firefighters in my battalion, Tony Hopler, who was assigned to my home quarters at Engine Company #5 on Congress Street near Ferry Street.
The wedding was held at a lovely church in downtown New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day as we entered the church. Yes my friends, it was truly a joyous day. One of my guys was about to be married, and it was an honor and a pleasure to be in the congregation to share in the joy of this special occasion. The music was appropriately beautiful, as was the bride, Sue. All-in-all, we fire guys were glad to be there with our buddy.
Many times during my career, my buddies and I gathered with our fellow travelers to celebrate, commiserate, or mourn. That is how real buddies hand the joys and sorrows of life. However, this special day marked a first for me. It was the first time that someone in my battalion had taken the plunge into the joyous pool of married life.
As is my way, I grew teary eyed as the bride moved slowly and gracefully down the aisle. I find that I am not afraid to cry when it is the appropriate response. It stems from words of advice from my father at my grandfather's funeral back in 1958. I was trying to be a brave little troop when my dad leaned over and whispered into my ear that it was sometimes OK to cry. I have taken his word as gospel and have shed my share of tears through the years.
There were some fine readings, with many analogies regarding marriage as a journey; one even likening it to climbing as mountain. Another passage spoke of the necessary teamwork and understanding that marriage requires. As one who had been married for more than 20 years at that time, I knew that the Biblical advice was built upon a solid foundation.
At one point, Tony and Sue moved from the main alter to a small shrine occupied by the Holy Mother. After placing a bouquet of flowers on the altar, they knelt for a moment of shared prayer. As we all watched from the rear of the church, a thought suddenly flew into my mind. As this man’s battalion chief, I now had a responsibility not only to him, but now to his wife. Any decision that I would make in the future about using Tony’s services at a fire could have both direct and implied ties to the lovely young woman kneeling at his side.
Now this may not seem like a terribly brilliant thought. However, I believe that it was an old thought revisited in my mind's eye. My friends, the point here is simple indeed. What you and I seek to accomplish as fire officers through our firefighters is never to be undertaken lightly. Nothing you and I do occurs in a vacuum. There are always consequences to our actions. We ignore these at our own peril (and the peril of our precious people).
A number of years ago, we were asked by a friend, the late Bill Clark, to provide a short list of thoughts for the second edition of his outstanding text, Firefighting Principles and Practices. In my discussions with Bill, we spoke of such matters as hose sizes, tactical deployment strategies, pumper pressures, and the like. In addition I shared with him my personal regard for the human element in any fire department operation. It was this last thought that he chose to employ in his text. You can never justify spending people on property.