A Ministry of Knowledge

Feb. 27, 2006
There are far too many people in the world who seem to be ignorant. This is to say they lack the facts to make intelligent and rational decisions because they are unaware of the way things really are. They are not dumb, nor are they stupid. They simply lack the facts, which is to say they lack knowledge.

There are far too many people in the world who seem to be ignorant. This is to say they lack the facts to make intelligent and rational decisions because they are unaware of the way things really are. They are not dumb, nor are they stupid. They simply lack the facts, which is to say they lack knowledge.

Perhaps someone should lead them to the font of knowledge so that they might drink deeply from the pooled wisdom of the ages. Maybe the person to do that is me. Maybe that person is you. Maybe it is a combination of you, me, and a lot of our fire service friends and associates.

Let me ask you a simple question about the state of knowledge in our world. Do you think that it would it be really tragic to spend an entire career in the fire service and never learn anything? I would. Let me assure you that there are those among you who will leave this life never knowing anything other than what they learned in year one of their time in the service. It is one of my major goals in life to do something positive about that sorry state of affairs.

My idea is for the creation of a ministry of knowledge within the fire service. My friends, you have probably have guessed by now that I am quite passionate about knowledge. Why is it that I am so taken by the need to absorb and share knowledge? Perhaps it is because of a promise made to my late father many years ago. It was an important promise and it was made during a time of abject failure in my life.

Back in 1966 it was my misfortune to flunk out of a really prestigious school. My one year at the University of Pennsylvania was spent enjoying equal measures of football, track and field athletics, fraternity life, and drinking. Believe me when I say that I achieved great things in each of these undertakings. Take a moment, however, and ask yourself what important topic is missing from that list.

Yes my friends, that is right, there is nothing on it about learning. Truth be told, I was not a very conscientious student. To say that I was a dumb ass gives me too much credit for my scholastic efforts. When the final tally was in, my grade point average was a whopping 0.8 on a scale of 4.0 = A. That sort of scholastic achievement would have easily qualified me for a starring role in one of my favorite movies, the 1978 classic Animal House.

Not long after returning home from school to work on what was supposed to be a "summer job" as a loader on soda trucks, the dean at Penn dropped the bomb on the Carter household one afternoon in late May of 1966. His letter suggested that it would be in the best interests of the school if I took a year off from school to ponder the error of my ways.

He also noted that my local draft board had been notified of the change in my student status. Shades of Dean Wormer at Faber College my friends; I went from a 1-D status for Reserve Officers Training Corps to 1-A, ready for immediate military service. My parents were not especially thrilled with this development. Neither was I.

They had sunk their life savings into sending me to an Ivy League school. Now all they had to show for their investment was a large, hulking, "draft-eligible" dummy of a son. At some point during this maudlin time, my father and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about life.

He suggested that I take some time in the military to ponder the error of my ways. I assured him that I would do this and try to make the most of my sad, learning experience. I promised him that some day he would be proud of me. This was an important promise, because throughout my life I had been taught by Mom and Dad about the importance of college and the role that it would some day play in any success that I might wish to experience in my life. The monumental nature of my scholastic debacle dawned darkly on my 19-year-old derriere during my first night is basic training.

The service did what it was supposed to do. Let me state for the record that I learned a great deal about life, knowledge, and education during my four years in the U.S. Air Force. I was also amazed to see how much my father had learned about life while I was traveling the globe as a member of the fire service in the USAF. Or was it that I matured a bit as I moved from Illinois to Alaska, on to the Philippines, thence to Vietnam, and on to my tour of duty in Arkansas.

Through the years I came to understand that I had missed the period of excitement and rebellion that would forever be remembered as the 1960's. There was precious little rebellion in my life as an enlisted man in the military. I also came to understand that I was light-years behind my high school classmates, many of whom had graduated from college in 1969, while I was getting a sun tan on the South China Sea beaches at Nha Trang, Vietnam.

In 1970 I hit the ground running when I got out of the military six weeks early to begin my studies at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey. I had seen the limitations within the military that the lack of a college degree could place on a person's life. I had seen some really smart sergeants working for some really dumb officers, because the officer had enough education to earn the commission.

The next ten years of my life were spent working my way from no college degree at all right on up to a Master's degree in the political sciences. It was also my good fortune to gain fulltime employment as a firefighter, first in Rahway, New Jersey, than in Newark. I also spent many years working for my doctoral degrees. It always seemed that there was more to learn.

As I learned from others I began to develop a love for teaching. And so it has been for the last 30 years. While I was researching and learning I was also sharing what I had learned with others. It was my privilege to meet a number of great instructors over the course of my career. Some were college people and others were hands-on fire instructors. Many were the instructors who took the time to share their gifts with me.

Years ago someone told me that the best way to keep a gift going was to share it with others. So I took that to heart and worked to become a fire service instructor. I had the real good fortune of meeting Chief Roger McGary of the Merck Fire Department in Rahway back in the mid 1970's. He was perhaps the most exciting and influential instructor I had met up to that time. I worked hard to emulate his example.

Fortune also smiled on me in the person of Jim McKenzie, who worked with Roger at Merck. Jim was one of my first instructors when I began taking college courses at Jersey City State College in the fall of 1972. I was a brand-new Rahway firefighter and wanted to pursue what was then a newly-created bachelor's degree in fire safety administration.

Jim and Roger took me under their collective wing and convinced me to join the fledgling New Jersey Society of Fire Service Instructors. They then encouraged me to join the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. These two men saw something in me and encouraged me to learn, share, and grow as an instructor. I have since shared their gifts with many others. I have been an encourager and promoter of knowledge and education for a long time now.

Let me now ask you an important question. Are you using all of the talents with which you have been endowed by the Lord? I do not care which of the many and diverse religions you subscribe to. Each of them has a Supreme Being, and that entity has endowed you with certain strengths, weaknesses, and skills. However being endowed with something is meaningless unless you take the necessary steps to use your strengths in a proactive manner; for the betterment of humankind.

Far too many people simply choose to float through life grooving on the experience. They absorb, but they never share. It may be possible to suggest that a generation of mental mooches has been created by our indulgent society. These individuals are sponge-like in nature, in that they soak up things. They are mooches in that they fail to keep the gifts the have garnered from their teachers who are moving naturally in society. They soak up but they fail to squeeze out the knowledge for other to soak up.

To this point I have shared my reasons with you for being so concerned with the gaining and sharing of knowledge. Let me now ask you for a commitment. Why is it that should you become a disciple of learning? Is it enough for me to say that you should learn and share because it is the right thing to do? I am not sure that my words will serve as sufficient motivation or justification.

Where might you be today if someone had not shared their love of the fire service with you? Each of us can look back to that person (or persons) who triggered an interest in the world of shiny red (white, blue, black, green, and other colored) vehicles that you and I now inhabit. For me that group was and is the Freehold Fire Department. It was their example that kindled the fire (pun intended) within my psyche.

However you cannot build a future in the world of knowledge based upon good wishes and the best of intentions. You need to back up the sincerity of your good intent with the necessary physical and mental actions which demonstrate the strength of your commitment. Over the past 30 years it has been my good fortune to have taught in at least 30 of our 50 states.

In each case I shared what I had learned from others with a fresh new audience. More than that, each time I taught, it was my privilege to learn from my students. Any teacher who says that they never learn from their students should turn in their notebook and seek a job washing cars in a very cold state. Learning and teaching are a mutual admiration society. You cannot have one without the other.

It is the students out there who motivate me to keep researching, learning, and writing. Heck, it is getting harder to stay ahead of you folks out there in fire service land. It is the student who serves as the central focus for why you and I should develop a ministry of knowledge based upon everything with which we have been endowed by our Creator.

What a shame it is when people spend untold time, talent, resources, and money to gain knowledge which is then laid up in their heads and never shared. It is most pleasing indeed each time I have the privilege of meeting an instructor newly initiated to the world of knowledge. I love witnessing their enthusiastic approach to the ministry of knowledge.

For you see, not everyone has what it takes to step up in front of their peers and share what they know. It takes a certain amount of courage to stand up and be counted as an instructor. While it may seem to come naturally to some people, each of us who serves as a teacher, instructor or professor had to learn our skills from someone. Each of us has had to take control of our emotions, tame our fears, and push on with our lessons.

However, you can share your knowledge in a one-on-one situation with your fellow firefighters. You can point out things to the new people and then share what you have learned with others as the opportunities present themselves.

Please remember that each person who inspired me to join them is in their own way a very special person. While we cannot remember everyone from whom we learned something, it is important for each of us to remember that we are a combination and distillation of everyone whoever taught us, or motivated us to learn.

If you are like me, you have adopted the good things and deleted the bad things which we saw in these people as they plied their instructional trade in our classrooms. It is my hope that there are those who have been in my classes who liked what they saw and decided to share the gifts I gave them with others.

There is a particular biblical verse from the Book of Matthew which I feel applies to the operation of this ministry of knowledge which I am asking you to join.

Ask, and it shall be given to you; Seek, and ye shall find; Knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Let no one who asks for your help ever be turned away from your doorstep. Each of us has achieved a great deal in our careers through our own efforts. However, none of this could have been accomplished without the intervention of teachers, instructors, professors, and others who placed a great value on sharing the gift of knowledge.

You can be the lighthouse of instruction guiding the ignorant and unknowing through the rocks and shoals of life into the safe harbor of knowledge. Please join with me in my ministry of knowledge. Share the gifts others have shared with you. That is what I am doing.

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