When Pete Matthews asked me to consider writing a Blog for Firehouse.Com I was really honored. You may wonder why this might be because I have been fortunate enough to write a column on marketing for both Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse.Com for the last nine years thanks to Jeff Barrington, one of my best friends, and Pete.
“Jewish Boys Don’t Become Firemen”
So let me tell you a story all of us understand. It’s important for you to understand what got me here. If I can share some of myself with you then, perhaps, you will share with me the same passion we all have for the fire service. Why the fire service and why marketing? Since my first memory when I was a tot in Oklahoma City almost 60 years ago I wanted to be a fire fighter. OK, you are saying, “So what.” “Me too.” “That’s why I became one.” “What makes you so special?” It’s not me that’s special. It’s each of you reading this blog. It’s every person in fire protection and in the fire service. I believe that everything happens for a reason and we are all different with unique experiences, strengths and skills. From my first thought to this day, I think about what it’s like to be a fire fighter, a fire officer and a fire chief. I think about fire departments and what makes them great. I remember a quote that “Genius is nothing more than observation coupled with a fixed purpose.” I am certainly no genius but I do have a fixed purpose: to spread the word about how great each fire fighter and fire department can be and what it means to be a part of a brother and sisterhood that represents all that is good in this world. Why would I think this is so? Why the fire department instead of some other service or group of people. I am not certain that I know but to bare my heart and tell you another story. When I was six my parents were divorced. My father left. He had his own men’s retail clothing business called May Brothers in Oklahoma City. I spent each weekend with dad. He would ask what I wanted to do. I would say, “Go to the main fire station in Oklahoma City.” So we would go there and I would talk to all of the firemen and go over the apparatus. At the time there were well over twenty stations in Oklahoma City. And each weekend we would visit a new station. When we finished the last one, we would start over with the main one. This went on until I was about twelve. Then I stopped seeing dad because it was just easier to deal with my mom’s hatred of dad, and just let it go. Mom sent me to a prep school in Oklahoma City called Casady. I was one of the only Jewish kids there. I had few friends and I did not know how to study. It was hard as hell, but I did learn how to study.
I Had to Put my Mother in the Psychiatric Ward of a Hospital when I was 16.
When I graduated I told mom I wanted to go to OklahomaStateUniversity to be the best fire fighter I could. She said, “Jewish boys aren’t fireman!” “You are going to ‘make something of yourself.’” My mother was a good person and she loved me dearly. But she had major problems. She had squandered a very large inheritance as well as the money she got from the divorce settlement. She was addicted to prescription drugs and she was becoming psychotic. I had to put my mother in the psychiatric ward of a hospital when I was 16. She would be committed five more times over the next ten years. It was unnerving, but I didn’t have time to be scared. I paid my way through Casady and buried my dream of being a fire fighter. I think that the fire department represented a kind of strength and calm for my chaotic life. It encompassed a kind of care and security. I wanted to be able to give that care and security to others. I wanted to be the one to say, “Everything is going to be OK.”