Old Dogs and New Tricks

My friends, I had one of those "hallelujah" moments while I was out at the Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. It has been my good fortune to be able to attend the FDIC for 31 of the last 34 years. More than that, I have been...


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My friends, I had one of those "hallelujah" moments while I was out at the Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. It has been my good fortune to be able to attend the FDIC for 31 of the last 34 years. More than that, I have been privileged to teach or facilitate seminars or main program presentations for 30 of the last 32 years. But this year was a great one owing to my 'personal epiphany'.
 
Let me assure you that the years I did not attend were merely because of job-related injuries. FDIC has been an important part of my life, growth and development as a member of the fire service. More than that, the FDIC has served as the place where I recharged my professional batteries in order to face the challenges of life here in the Garden State of New Jersey. However, having said all of that, this year's edition was one of the best ever.
 
Thanks to the intervention of friends and associates, I had a great deal of help to guide me when I ran right into the brick wall of my own personal errors in the world of fire service education and involvement at the FDIC.  Thanks to the support of a number of really great people, I believe that I have avoided stepping off the edge and falling into the abyss of professional irrelevance. I talked, my friends listened. They talked and I listened. That is a really great way to work out your problems, particularly when you are unaware that there are problems. 
 
Like many of you I have often heard the old story about how you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Old dogs, it has long been suggested, are so set in their ways that they will not accept new training from their masters. It seems to make sense, and given the actions of many of the people whom I have met over the years, it seems true indeed. Except for one thing; it isn't always true.
 
Let me share a little story with you to make my point. Back in 1994, at the age of 47, I began my journey through the world of music as a tuba player. I had sung in church choirs for a number of years, but had not done more than take about six months of lessons on the trumpet back in grammar school. I could not play any instrument at all.
 
However, I had always wanted to play the tuba. Since I was a little kid, I wanted to make the 'bump-bump' sound at the bottom of the band. Unfortunately, when I got to high school, I discovered that there were no tubas in the band inventory. They had always borrowed the Sousaphones from the Elks Band and the Fireman's Band in Freehold, New Jersey.
 
By the time I got to high school, both local bands had been disbanded (pun intended), and their instruments sold. Sadly, this left me out in the cold when it came time to think about playing in the band. The rest is, as they say, history. I played football, wrestled on the junior varsity team, and threw the shot put and discus for the track team. Lots of fun, my friends, but not it was not the same as playing a tuba. Let us now jump ahead many years. 
 
In 1994, it was time for me to begin studying for the civil service Deputy Fire Chief's examination in Newark. One of the things which I did to prepare myself was to attend a series of promotional prep courses in Northern New Jersey. It was on the return trip from one of these educational adventures that a life changing (read that hallelujah) moment occurred. 
 
While heading back to the city for a night shift in the firehouse in Newark, I stopped at a music store on Route 46 in Little Falls. I was shopping for a trumpet for my son. He had developed a love of music and needed his own instrument. While shopping, I shared my well-worn 'I have always wanted to play a tuba' story with the sales person. He listened, paused to think and then shared the following thoughts with me. 
 
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