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By Mark vonAppen

This letter came to me from a firefighter in a major metroplolitan department here in the USA.  If this rookie had a voice, this is what he would say.

Look, I know I am just a rookie.  I am not experienced, that is the point.  That is why I hound you to train me, to drill with me, to make me sharp, to help me hone my skills.  I know that there is much merit in tradition, but the things I want and need to do have merit as well.
I want to learn.
I am not a 2-years-going-on-10 type of person.  I know I am as green as a tree frog.  I look up to you.  I sit at your feet waiting for your knowledge to fall on me like raindrops.  I am a sponge.  I watch your every move and imitate what I see.  10 years from now people will know whose rookie I was by my actions, attitude, and work ethic.  I am not a child, but in many ways I am like a toddler taking their first steps; my career having just begun.
You and the crew have many combined years of service and every one of them was spent learning something.  You are teaching me these things whether you know it or not; whether you want to or not.

"I look up to you.  I want to learn.  I am watching."
Once upon a time you too were the eager rookie.  You looked up to the veterans with awe as I do you.  The firefighter you are today is a direct result of those who raised you in the fire service.  In the same way, you are shaping me and my classmates, the current rookies.  I learn your habits, the way you check your gear, the apparatus, and the way you treat me.  I will be a reflection of you.  I will check my SCBA the way you taught me and I will show only as much attention to detail as you teach me to.
I am watching.
Right now I am eager to learn, please show me what is right.  Please show me the right way to do things, instill your strong work ethic in me.  10 years from now, when people look at whose rookie I was, please let it be a good thing.
- Your Rookie

The letter gave me pause as I re-inventoried who I try to be as a leader.  It is a constant learning process.  I was reminded that there is a synergy between learning and leading and that we must forever pay our knowledge forward.

We must remember that the new people are always watching us and will mirror what they see; both good and bad.  Remember too, that we are aggregate beings comprised of everything and everyone we have ever known and experienced.  Pieces of our every contact in a lifetime of contacts have molded and shaped us into who we are today.  Today's interactions change who we will be tomorrow.  We are resultant of a lifetime's worth of input from all we have observed, both positive and negative.

If you can look down the line at all of the people who came through your firehouse that went on to become successful, charismatic, and understanding leaders then you can be proud of the rich heritage you helped to create.
Your rookie is watching you, feed their hunger for knowledge.  Their growth and success will be your legacy.
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Comment by Skip Coleman on September 6, 2013 at 9:26am

Great Mark, 

The one point that struck me the most was the comment the rookie made "I am watching".  Every senior firefighter and officer MUST be aware of that fact all the time if they want to set a good example and the right tone for the recruit to follow.  You as a Senior firefighters and officers ARE being watched all the time.  Your actions will speak volumes as to how that rookie develops and matures.

Comment by Colin Kelley on September 4, 2013 at 5:20pm

Outstanding as usual Mark!!

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