Recently I was given an incredible honor when I was invited to give the keynote address for the Firefighter 1 graduating class for the Garrison (Minnesota) Fire Department. When I was invited to do this, I wondered “why me?” After all, Garrison is a couple hours away from where I live. The training Captain for Garrison, Mike Schneider had attended a seminar I taught about 10 months previous. Prior to that, and since then, I’d had no contact with Mike or anyone from his department. I didn’t know what to expect. I did a quick Internet search where I learned Garrison had a population of 213.
Needless to say, I didn’t hold out very high expectations for what the event would entail… and shame on me because I was about to get my eyes opened wide. I met Mike at the station. While it was a modest facility, it was clean. The gear was in order. The trucks were clean. During my tour Mike showed me the training room where the wall was peppered with leadership and motivation quotes. He was quick to point out that a number of those quotes were from my books “On Fire! About Leadership” and “Fireground Command Decision Making.”
That was a very humbling thing for me to see. Like many authors, I don’t get much feedback about the things I write which often leaves me wondering if anyone is reading this stuff and if they are, is it making a difference? In Garrison, Minnesota my material was not only being read, but was posted for everyone to read. Wow!
We went to City Hall for the ceremony in a room that would comfortably seat about 40 people. Fire department members attended to setting up the room and preparing refreshments while members of the VFW rehearsed the presentation of colors. I thought to myself “This is a big deal… a REALLY BIG DEAL.” The guests arrived and they filled the room to capacity. The graduates sat in the front row in class B uniforms devoid of the badges that would be pinned on during the ceremony.
In preparation for my address I reminisced to my early days as a firefighter and reflected on all the lessons I had learned over the past 30 years. I wanted to tell these recruits so many things – more than time would allow. I wanted my message to focus on their responsibilities and commitment to serve humankind to be loud and clear. My message would be to them. The rest of the audience – representing roughly 20 percent of the town’s population – would just be spectators to this discussion. It was a very emotionally charged speech.
Words cannot describe how proud I was of each of them, how proud I was that they invited me to speak at this ceremony, and how proud I was at that moment to be a firefighter. Yet, in spite of my intense pride I was also ashamed – ashamed that I had not celebrated more of these events in the organizations I had led. I now realize, although too late, what an injustice it was for me not to be the champion of more celebrations.
Congratulations Mike, Vickie, Clay, Chad, Jorge, Josh, Mike, and Bill. Your community now depends on you to put service above self.
Something good is going to happen in your organization in the coming weeks or months. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate it.
Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP