Lessons Lost - Lessons Shared - Lessons Learned

April 24, 2006
An important conclusion was reached during the week just past. It is my opinion that I am a man with certain biases and pre-conceived notions.

An important conclusion was reached during the week just past. It is my opinion that I am a man with certain biases and pre-conceived notions. There are long-held beliefs which lie at the core of my very being. There are certain ways that I act and certain things that I do, as a matter of education and experience. In this way I am no different than any of you. We are all products of our lived experience.

Having said this I want to assure you that I am working to become more open and sharing. Life does not revolve around me. I am just one of the many players on the stage of life. Part of being a sharing and caring individual revolves around the continual review of my educational data base. No matter how long you or I do something, we must remain open to the new ways of performing these tasks. We must guard against closing our hearts and minds to the new ways of doing things which others put forward from time to time.

During many of my consulting assignments, I encounter people who never leave their community in search of the latest professional developments in our field. They keep doing things in the same ways as their fathers and grandfathers. They do not seek to learn any new lessons, because they are so comfortable with the manner in which they operate. In short, they build walls around their communities to keep out the new concepts which are alien to their experience.

While we should not seek to cause change just for change sake of change, we must look for those things that can make our service better. We should not hide from change just because it makes us uncomfortable, or because it scares us. We need to keep an open mind to new ideas. We must weigh their value, and then utilize them if it is appropriate to do so.

Just where do we find these ideas and how do we embrace them. There are a number of ways to do this. We should begin our efforts by stepping outside of the normal box wherein we live and look at what other people are doing. Reading the literature of our field is an excellent way to begin this search. Far too many people fail to embrace the many magazines within which professionals in our field lay down their thoughts and experience for us all to review.

Another important thing that we call can do is attend the major fire service conventions which occur at various times during the year. At these events one can find a wide array of seminars and discussions on what is happening in the fire service today. I am not saying that we should accept every word we hear as gospel. However, we should listen, weigh, and evaluate the lessons offered by the seminar presenters. Be active listeners.

This is a magic week for all of us who value education and training. It is once again that time of the year when firefighters from around the world converge on the city of Indianapolis for an extremely important event. We are coming together to celebrate the importance of knowledge to all of us who live within the world of the fire service. We are coming together to share what we know and do.

Since 1928 people interested in knowledge have made the annual pilgrimage to the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). Regardless of where the event has been held, it has been a place for learning and sharing. Individuals who have sought to broaden the boundaries of our shared experience have come together and built a new reality for our fire service.

Why do we do this? Why doe each of us take a week out of our lives and away from our families to study the latest developments in the fire service? It is my guess that we all do this because of the recognition that knowledge is power, and that proper knowledge forms the basis for all that is right and good in the world.

Of course there will be others with their own agendas. However, even these people will come away with a better understanding of the fire service than if they did not go. You just cannot avoid knowledge. It seems to be in the air out in Indianapolis.

While many will be the people in class there may be those who transact their business with the confines of the many fine food and drink institutions which offer their amenities to the attendees. Thus has it long been in the world of smoke and flames. This is not a bad thing. Heck, some of my greatest learning experiences have come at the National Fire Academy's Command Post Pub.

There is just something about the relaxed environment that is conducive to the sharing of the true secrets of fire service success. The exchange of ideas in a convivial atmosphere is a good thing: Friends coming together to share life's lessons. This is one of the reasons I go to the FDIC. So it has been for me since 1977 when I attended my first FDIC in Memphis, Tennessee.

I met an almost endless array of really neat people. We all shared an interest in the gaining and sharing of knowledge. As a matter of fact for many years I used the FDIC as a place to recharge my mental batteries. After being worn down by the system in my own department I came together with people who wanted to learn and who had a great deal to share. I now go to pass on my four decades of experience and meet the people who are the future of our fire service.

Many were the people over the years that came to share what they had learned in their own parts of the fire service world. Some are gone now, but their example lives on in my mind, others have retired or moved away from the fire service. Here are some of the people I remember, but there are countless more whose names escape me:

Emmet Cox Lloyd Layman Bill Clark Dick Sylvia Frank Brannigan Tom Brennan Ed McCormack John Hoglund John Leahy Roger McGary

These were some of the people who served as my role models. They worked hard to expand the knowledge base for all of us who were laboring in the trenches of the fire service all over North America. You may have heard of some of them, but most are no longer with us. Some have been with the Lord for quite some time while others have recently left us. However, whether you know them or not as a member of the fire service you enjoy the benefit of their labors.

These are our predecessors. These are the people who blazed the trails that you and I now travel. These are the people who taught those of us who now step onto the podium at the FDIC to present this years round of knowledge for you and me. Here are just a few of the folks I look to for guidance, support, and knowledge within our fire service:

Alan Brunacini Billy Goldfeder Bobby Halton Bob Barraclough Mike Nasta John Buckman John Salka Carl Wendt Lennie Carmichael Jack Murphy

These folks are out there every day doing the work of the fire service. They are researching and adding to the body of knowledge for all of us. They will be out in Indianapolis doing their level best to share the lessons of their lives with us. Their motivations are pure and their efforts come directly from the heart. Be sure to learn as much as you can from these fine and dedicated individuals.

However, not everyone that you will encounter at the FDIC will be out there working for the purest motives of the fire service. Over time I have come to see a growing number of people for whom this conference is just one more place to make a buck. They are not interested in advancing the fire service. They just wan to sell you things.

Many of them know just enough about their product to make sure they can catch our attention and hopefully grab our wallets. Maybe they can answer our basic questions and maybe they are all smoke and mirrors. My friends, they are merely out to sell you and me something we may or may not need. My friends, I am a realist though. I know that this will continue. It is just something we have to tolerate, because it helps to pay the bills.

In spite of my bias against commercialism I want to ask you to do one simple thing if you are going to attend a conference this year. I want you to visit as many vendors as possible and I want you to ask hard questions about the background research which supports the new apparatus, tools, equipment, and concepts which are being displayed. I want you to be an educated consumer.

Here are a few simple questions which can help you to get to the heart of what you really want to know.

What is the basic research behind your product? Please give me the names of ten fire departments that are currently using your product? Can I buy the basic model without all of the bells and whistles? Can you recommend a comparable product with which to compare your product? Has anyone ever been injured by your product? Will your product work if the computer fails?

Be sharp. Create your own questions. Do not be afraid to ask these questions. These people want your money. They had damned sure better be ready to receive and answer your questions. Make a pain in the butt of yourself. It is your money that these folks want. Make them work for it.

Sadly far too many of you will go to a convention this year just to be entertained. You will form lines around the pretty girls in tight dresses or skimpy suits. You will cheer those with the slickest performances and clap for the people with the neatest PowerPoint programs, the ones with the most spinning and swirling tools on the screen. You may not remember a word of their lessons. This is both sad and inevitable.

This is they way our society has been conditioned by the media. Fewer people are reading books. More people are getting their news from the television or from the Internet. We know what happened in the world a couple of hours ago. We may remember what happened yesterday. Perhaps we know the lessons of the last six months.

Sadly our society does not remember the lessons of the past. Why else are the majority of our deaths and injuries happening in the same way and manner as in the days of yore? If all we know is today, we have a real problem.

I teach because I have learned from those who went before. Those who went before blazed a trail for me to follow. These people learned many lessons in their time and took great pains to make sure other people gained the benefit of their hard-earned lessons. They gave me the gift of knowledge.

A wise person once told me that the best way to keep a gift alive it to share it with someone else. That is my challenge to you this week. Learn as much as you can and then go out and share it with others. We need to come together in order to find our personal peace within the turbulent world wherein we find ourselves today. We will find this peace within the company of those who care and share.

Do not hog the good news. Do not come down with a case of lesson amnesia. Just make sure that you keep that knowledge moving along. If the knowledge dies than, sadly, someone we know may die. Ignore this lesson at your own peril. See you in Indianapolis.

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