Carter: Something You Can't Read About in a Book

It seems like people are sadly starting to see people of a certain age in the fire service as possessing an absence of wisdom rather than a treasure trove of knowledge to be shared and celebrated.


It is with a great deal of concern that I come to you with the thoughts in this commentary.  It is my opinion that there is a serious problem brewing in our beloved fire service.  It has taken me quite some time to put my thoughts together. My goal here is not to anger anyone, but to inform and share what I see happening around me.  

It seems like people are sadly starting to see people of a certain age as possessing an absence of wisdom rather than a treasure trove of knowledge to be shared and celebrated.  As a matter of fact I am seeing it in far too many instances and places.  People who should be pivotal members of an organization's knowledge base are be kicked to the curb by younger people who claim to know "it all". They do not see the value of tacit knowledge which is the learned experiences which each of us gathers as we move through our careers. 

As I sat on my porch puffing on one of my favorite cigars, a thought came to me in the midst of my cloud of smoke. I decided to share that thought and so I put out a tweet on my thoughts about teaching and training the next generation.  My tweet was simple indeed.  "We cannot expect our younger members to suddenly know what they need to know. We must share what we have learned over the years with them."

It then dawned on me that, because of the limitations imposed by Twitter, I had not fully expressed my thoughts. With this in mind I sent out a second tweet which stated that, "…when I say share I mean just that. Share, don't dictate, demand or force feed. Find out what they do know and build upon that".

The responses to my two comments came flying in. They seemed to split into a couple of different schools of thought. There were those who said that the problem was being caused by the younger generation. Then there were those who blamed the whole situation on the older members of our fire departments who have refused to embrace the younger members of their organization and welcome them into a leadership role within their departments.

Since I have seen glaring examples of both, I suggest that there has to be a middle ground for which we all should strive. One of life's lessons for me is that when one side wins a knockdown, drag-out battle, the other side loses.  This is never a good situation.  Some hard feelings go on for generations. I know of a couple of fire departments which are still fighting the battles of the year 1915 when someone urinated on someone's Cream of Wheat and a number of people stomped off and started their own fire company. 

Let me suggest that it is hard for some people to realize that their time in a leadership role within an organization must come to an end. They hang on angering people to the left and to the right until the local undertaker carts them off to their final resting place. That is not how I want my life to be remembered.  

My life has been a series of adventures where I rose up through an organization, led that group, and then stepped aside for my successor. I am at an age when I now consider that I may have stepped up to the plate once too often. It is time for me to cheer on the next generation and share my wisdom with them when appropriate. There are those people among us who cannot do this.  

These people never share what they know. As long as the hoard the wisdom, they use it as a club to beat the younger people into submission. They refuse to step aside and let the next generation step up and take charge. I have seen some really fine organizations go off of the deep end because of an unwillingness by the older members to welcome, nurture, and growth their new members into productive members of the group. 

One of two things will happen.  People will get tired of being treated like crap and vote with their feet.  This is the normal course of events. People will not stay where they feel unwanted by their peers.  

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