Carter: Where is the Next Generation?

It is my fear that I have failed to find and train my replacement. How about you?

Over the years I have been a faithful participant in the Firehouse Expo, the FDIC, Fire Rescue International, as well as the Western Monmouth Mutual Aid Association here in New Jersey.  Back in 1999, thanks to the efforts of my dear friend Steve Austin of Delaware, I became an active member of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association working on the highway safety project.

However, I am no longer a young man. I worry that the younger generation is not stepping up to take their place within the county, state, and regional fire service organizations.  It is my guess that keeping up with the simple things of life is not as important (or exciting) for the younger generation. Perhaps we who have been in positions of leadership are at fault for holding on to the reins of power for too long.

I can recall when I was a younger man being made to feel quite out of place, unwelcome, and unimportant by the older folks who were calling the shots for the folks back in those days. However, it is my nature to be stubborn.  When someone tells me what I cannot do, I go out of my way to prove them wrong. I hung on and moved up the organizational leadership ladder. But one important thing I also did was make a mental note never to treat the younger folks around me like crap.  Where would we be as a society if we did not ready the next generation for their roles in the future of our fire service.

Perhaps we are not seeing the younger people turn out for our organizational meeting because we have failed to keep up with the times. In a world gone mad with Facebook, Twitter, and all such things we might actually seem irrelevant. Could it be that many among us are still creating an aura of distrust and disdain within the organizations to which I make reference. Heck, might it even be that we have outlived our usefulness in many cases and failed to recognize that the time has come to fold our tents, close up shop, and steal away into the dark of night?  I have seen this happen.

Let me suggest something else you should really pause and ponder. Let me suggest that it is possible that those of us in positions of leadership are not living a good, solid, positive leadership example for others to follow. You must create a caring, nurturing, and inviting atmosphere if you want to recruit and retain people in our busy 21st Century Society. As a collective series of groups, we are neither talking the talk nor walking the walk.

Let me ask you to think a bit about the example set by my family. In my wife’s case, her dad was a long-time member of the fire company who joined in 1936 when he was but a lad of 18 and served up until the last couple of years of his life when his health began to fail. Her mother was also a life member of the ladies auxiliary. She is living the example which was set for her by her parents. When we started dating back in high school she knew that I rode the ambulance in Freehold.  She must have at least had a hit back then that I was a bit screwy.

Therefore she was not at all surprised when I joined the fire company as soon as I moved to the village back in January of 1972. It did not seem out of the ordinary when the Plectron sounded and I jumped out of bed to head off on a fire call.  This is the example which my children witnessed as they grew up in the Carter household.  Dad drove the fire trucks and fought the fires. Mom spent time working at the carnival and various bake sales. She was also on the team charged with making the soup and sandwiches after the big fires. The kids saw this and found it to be something they too wished to do. Of course my son took the example of service in another direction. He is now serving as a Catholic priest at the Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Mercerville.

Perhaps the next generation is not coming around because we Baby Boomer types have failed to set the proper example for them and created an awareness and enjoyment of the additional duties which need to be done beyond the excitement and satisfaction of the world of emergency response. Maybe we have failed to learn the lessons of those who went before us. Or maybe we are acting like those older troops who had a habit of driving people away.