So here we are in one of my favorite locations, the place where I get to see the view from my front porch. The photo tells the story my friends and a good one it is. This week, however, the location of my front porch shifted about 200 miles to the south and west of Adelphia, New Jersey. Once again it was once again my good fortune to be able to attend the 112th Convention of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association (CVVFA) in Shippensburg, Pa. It is always great to get together with my buddies from the association. Rather than puffing my cigar on the porch, I sat in my camp chair and shared some serious smoking time with a couple of my buddies.
One of the high points of my annual trip to the CVVFA convention is our annual memorial service when we honor all who passed on during the past year. My friend, association Chaplain Charlie Barnhart is an ordained deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). My friends, I want you to know that Charlie is no stranger to the pulpit when it comes to preaching the word of the Lord.
Since I was not at last year’s CVVFA Convention, because I was speaking at the Fire Rescue Conference in Denver, I did not have the chance to do my annual commentary on Chaplain Charlie’s sermon. Over the past many years I have created quite the tradition of creating a commentary for my Firehouse blog based upon his CVVFA memorial service sermon. I bumped into Charlie as I was pulling into my parking spot at the Shippen Place Hotel in beautiful downtown Shippensburg. He and I chatted the day we arrived. He told me that he had a sermon that would really grab me and motivate me. I told him that I am a tough audience, but that we would see how it went.
My friend’s Charlie preached a fine sermon which compared the life of our Lord Jesus Christ to ET, the hero of Steven Spielberg’s 1980’s hit “ET: The Extra Terrestrial”. His sermon was entitled, ‘Look Up’. He spoke about how ET was a stranger who made both friends and enemies. He also spoke of ET as a being who missed his home and his friends. When Charlie asked us if any of us had cried during the ‘ET Phone Home’ sequence, I had to raise my hand.
As I was leaving the service Charlie asked me what I thought of his sermon. Did it motivate me? What did I think? Could I make any sense of his message? My reply to him was probably not what he wanted to hear. I said that I was in a bit of a quandary. I had several pages of notes but no real sense of direction. However, I told him that I would put my mind to work on it. I told Charlie that it was one of his final comments in the sermon which had finally spurred me to begin thinking in a solid direction.
I think my mind began did begin to take me in a direction different from Charlie’s sermon message when he asked the question, “…have you ever been lonely?” ET was lonely he said. Sometimes even the Lord was lonely. I suddenly knew what I simply had to write about. I am quite familiar with the concept of lonely. My friend’s, I have really been quite lonely since my best friend in the whole world, Jack Peltier of Marlboro, Mass., passed away last December. As a matter of fact, Jack was one of the deceased members who was honored during the service. Toward the end of his sermon, as I was sitting there mulling over Charlie’s words, he paused to ask us to look up. He asked us to look up beyond the ceiling of the church and to look up to heaven.
As I looked up I thought about all of the good times that Jack and I shared over the years. I thought about the time we spent on our road trip back in 2006. You sure learn a lot about a guy when you spend a solid 30 days on the road with another person. I thought of the countless hours we spent at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) over the years teaching and training people and bend an arm or two at a wide variety of local watering holes in Memphis, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.
We were a well-known duo at the Champs Restaurant in the Marriott across the street from the Indianapolis Convention Center. We spent countless hours mentoring the young troops who stopped by for a brew and a counseling session. I could not begin to estimate the impact that Jack had over the years on the American Fire Service. But there are a lot folks doing a better job because of him.
So there I was, sitting in the Memorial Lutheran Church in Shippensburg, looking up toward the heavens and thinking about the past. But then it came to me. The past is prologue. Jack would want me to share with you my suggestions about how to take the lessons of the past and pay them forward to the future.
More than that, he would want me to find people to come on board and become the Jack’s and Harry’s of the fire service. I can only do what I can do. The same is true for you. However, if we are to succeed we must work to create a new generation of teachers, trainers, and mentors. I have worked to do this. Let me ask each of you who are reading my words to find the one person who will help you train and educate the fire service of the future.
My friends you don’t have to be lonely. You need to reach out to the people around you and make friends. It is my strong recommendation that you must share what you know. You need to reach out and build relationships with the people in your fire department. There are those whom you look up to. If you like what they are doing, emulate their actions and activities. Share their knowledge with others and work to grow your own professional network.
ET might have been lonely. Our Lord might have been lonely. There I times when I have been lonely. ET had friends and enemies. Our Lord had friends and enemies. I know I have friends, and I am fairly certain that my adversaries are just around the next bend in the road of my life. But all of these thoughts must be accepted as the givens in each of our lives. However, it has been my experience that one of the important keys to success in the fire business requires us to work in teams and networks.
Let me close with a simple statement. You can be lonely or you can be surrounded with friends. Having been in both situations, I would urge you to reach out and create that network of friends. Look up and look around. It can be you key to operational success.