If the Disciples Didn’t Believe the Lord, How Can I Make My Firefighters Believe Me?

As is often the case in our life, the seed of this idea for my visit with you came from the message provided by one of my pastor's sermons. It is my guess that by now you have gotten the idea that all I do is scribble notes during my pastor's sermons. You would be right in pursuing this thought. So much good comes from my interaction with the church that I would be remiss if I failed to share these lessons with you.
 
There was the occasion when my pastor stressed the fact that our Lord had a clue that the troops had a propensity towards not paying attention. Could it be that he noted them sleeping when they should have been praying or learning the many lessons which the Lord needed to share with them.
 
However, despite his best efforts, no matter how many times he told them what was ordained to be in the future, they failed to understand. And sometimes, they could be down right unsupportive. Remember how they fell asleep when he asked them to pray with him. I bet he could have used a bit of company out there.
 
How many times have you, as instructors, felt that you were out there in the garden by yourself? Maybe it had to do with some critical safety issues. It might have been that new basic training program you wanted to start. Or it could have been that time you wanted to alter the delivery system for your department. For me it was the battle to bring the message of seatbelts to the masses in Adelphia.
 
How many times have you felt like you were out there all by yourself, on the end of a long, thin limb? While all about you the sound of snoring was intermingled with the buzz of chain saws cutting into the wood of your limb. Such can be the lot of a dedicated training officer in the "world of the tiny- brained."
 
Of course it might be that the brains are not all that tiny. However, they might be closed. It is sad to think of the number of folks in our training world who are forced to face an array of brains and minds which seem to be closed to the introduction of new approaches, concepts and ideas. How many times do you have to tell a fire chief something before he believes you? How many times do you have to hear that, "…if it was good enough for my father and grandfather, it is good enough for me"?
 
This almost sounds like one of those old ethic jokes about the changing of light bulbs. However, we cannot use that sort of humor any longer. Let me assure you that It still takes five firemen to change a light bulb. One to hold the light bulb, and four to criticize the choice of bulb, size of bulb, color of bulb and type of ladder to use. If this seems familiar to you, you are not alone.
 
Please notice that the bulb has yet to be changed. It is probably the training officer who will be give the job of getting those firemen together in order to get the bulb changed.
 
Perhaps you also remember those parts of the Biblical verse where the Lord urges his sidekicks to look, see and touch the result of the Roman's work. The part where he says, "touch and see, lest ye not believe. Heck, if you recall, even Doubting Thomas didn't believe right away.
 
How many Doubting Fire People do you work with? These are the people who learned their job once, and feel that they never need be shown anything new again in their careers. They are the ones who bring the old German Proverb to life; the one about empty barrels making the loudest noise.
 
You will recognize these people as they ones who:
 
1.         Think that turnout gear is for sissies (even after all of these years).
2.         Wear their SCBA upside down (if they wear it at all) and do not notice the difference.
2.         Try to perform pump and roll operations in a pumper without a PTO unit.
3.         Place and raise ground ladders, upside down.
4.         Wonder why the roof ladder falls off the roof, because they did not know that you had to extend the hooks.
5.         Disappear when they should be the Incident Commander at the command post.
5.         Et Cetera, Et Cetera, Ad Infinitum.
 
These are the same people that you still catch from time to time wearing their fire helmets backwards because they think it looks cool. These are the same people that are absent when they should be at the drills and training sessions. Why is it that these people will not listen to reason?
 
It is my belief that some people require tangible proof of the obvious before they will believe anything. These are the people who spend their lives checking each pan they find on a stove to see if it is hot to the touch.
 
It is your job as an officer and as a fire instructor to provide calm words of strength to overcome their doubts. Sometimes these words come from a textbook. On other occasions they are gems of wisdom mined from the gold mine of our experience. Regardless of their source, they must be delivered in a manner that is right for the people you are trying to reach.
 
And in some cases, it is a combination of both these commodities, seasoned with a dash of common sense; and a pound of patience. And your words must be delivered in a way that shows you to be calm, rational, and in control of your faculties. For the truth of the matter is that calm words can often overcome doubt. I know that they can bring reason to the midst of stormy times.
 
In order to be successful as instructors, each of us must be able to operate on the physical and ethereal planes. You must provide the touch and feel of a ladder for your people to learn raising and climbing skills.  And you must appeal to their minds and consciences to get them to practice. They need to know that skills are enhanced through the use of well-thought-out, repetitive drills and training sessions.
 
It is not at all like the method used by Professor Henry Hill in that great old Broadway musical, "The Music Man." This was later made into a movie and the main point of the movie was that Professor Hill, who did not know a note of music, was attempting to lead a town band so that he could swindle the citizens of River City, Iowa out of their hard-earned money. There was a point in the movie when he called upon the entire town band to "Think about the Minuet in D." Think it and you will play it. Not likely. Not without a lot of hard work, motivation and practice. So too is it with you as fire officers and instructors.
 
It is up to you to provide the continuing example of what is good and right in the world of training. You are the missionaries of knowledge going forth into the world of the unknowing. You must be continually searching for converts to the world of training. How can you expect your fire department to take their training seriously if you do not provide the example?
 
And when you find a person who thirsts for knowledge, by all means, give them some. Welcome them home to the world of knowledge, with the same fervor that a shepherd welcomes home that one lost sheep for which he has looked long and hard. Perhaps if we pursue our vocation as trainers with a fire in our bellies (pun totally intended), we will success in converting people to the world of knowledge. I can promise that if you never try, you will surely never succeed.
It is my belief that this is why we still talk about the Lord so many years after he left us. He just didn't stop trying.   Neither should you. He created disciples and trained them well. Remember that if you never talk to your people, they will never be able to hear you. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Know and it will be opened unto you.

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