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This throwback photo was taken in the seventies at the retirement party for Raymond “Raybo” Adams. Raymond was an “old timer” when I joined his company. He also was the star pitcher on the department baseball team and he could still “bring the stuff” as he aged.

The picture always reminds me of the old and the new and the generational differences that we hear so much about in the Fire Service. It also causes me to stop and wonder how we can capture the best of both.

The stumbling blocks that we need to overcome in order to glean all of the good from our amazing historical past seem to me a simple matter of earned trust and communications. Both require some effort and a realization that not everything from the past needs to be forgotten or changed. Effective leaders, formal or informal, understand history and involve those who can teach it and help bridge the generational divide.

Secure leaders will trust the veteran members who have given the best years of their lives to the department and who have something to share.  They also understand that how a young person begins their career will often times determine how they will progress through and finish their career.

Confident leaders will embrace those who are willing to communicate what is worth sharing to young people. Young people are in most cases willing and able to take the torch and run with it. Young people are also enriched by veterans who have a passion for the Fire Service and who care enough about the future to dedicate their time to teach and to hand off the torch. History taught well first opens the hearts and then the minds and passion of the future.

I learned a great deal in the early years by simply being identifiable as a student of the game. I was quiet, respectful, and I took every opportunity to respect those who had come before me. I never feared doing more than “my share” of the work and always when a veteran was teaching, I was listening. It was amazing how many times I was able to make use of their tricks of the trade and to achieve a successful outcome by automatically recalling a training tip or a bit of informal advice passed down from old to new.

Many times Raymond and I would greet each other on a fire house morning with the question “How is the current today?” This question came from a story that he had told me about a river rescue and to us it was a simple good morning exchange that asked “what kind of day will we have today?” Most days we both were determined to make it a good day.

The river rescue story goes that Raymond and three others were sent to rescue a man who was stranded on a rock in the James River at the fall line.

They paddled an old wooden boat against the current and made a number of attempts to reach the victim. Several times the boat struck rocks and several times the rushing water turned the boat away from the victim.

As the men struggled to reach the victim, a Battalion Chief who was dry on the river bank was expressing his frustration with the effort and continually pointing and yelling at the rescuers to “Paddle harder” and “Get up there.”

Out of frustration and exhaustion Raymond yelled back to the Chief “Kiss _ _   _ _ _.” The rescue was finally made and the Chief told Raymond that he had heard what was said and that he was going to put charges on him. Raymond denied the Chief’s allegation and told the Chief that he had said “the current’s too fast.” How is the current in your fire department today?

How do we make sure that young people receive what their elders are willing to give? Some progressive departments host lunches where positive veterans spend quality time with Rookie classes, others have mandatory reading lists that outline their department history. Do veteran members get invited to provide a history article for your newsletter? If your department history was a part of the curriculum would you learn it?

How many names are on your fire department Honor Roll? Do you have an LODD Honor Roll? How, when, why and where did each become a LODD in your department? What effort do we make to remember and acknowledge them and by doing so does the generation of today learn from our tragedies of yesterday?  

Is it possible to put together a training bulletin on each LODD for distribution on the date of occurrence or perhaps an “All Call” announcement as a reminder and remembrance of our team member or members who died on this date because they came to work, just as you did?

Are the raising, lowering and folding of our most beautiful American flag just another daily task or is it and opportunity for a team to remember, to talk, to be proud and to say Thank You together for a few minutes? Do we in the Fire Service have a reason to be THANK FULL. I think so.

How does the pride displayed by your unit impact neighboring units or the passing public who witness it? Teaching history and creating pride and ownership does not require permission. Does your public view your fire house as your closed fortress or as their proud neighborhood fort?

Sometimes it is too easy for Officers to forget a time when we were doing the paddling and to stand on the bank and honk like a goose with a better idea. If your idea was so good maybe you should have shared it and trained on it yesterday, when the current was calmer.

Is your leadership oar used to train and encourage others to paddle well or are you just stirring?

Good leaders anticipate the rocks.

What do your veterans have to offer? Can they still “bring the stuff?”

Who is doing the organizational paddling and what are they saying to you? What are you hearing?

Do you ever catch people doing something good?

Is your leadership constantly on the rocks, creating bad currents and victims or saving them?

Are you a trusting, confident, secure and effective leader or are you afraid of the water?

Thank you for reading, liking, caring and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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