Okay, so I've been here for a long time (in FFN terms anyway) and have yet to make a blog post. I'm going to cheat and use a part of the speech that I gave Saturday night when I was installed as President of the Vermont State Firefighters Association....
There are many lessons that I have learned over the span of my fire service career. I’d like to share a couple of them with you.
The first is “don’t run”. We all know, or should know, that running on the scene is to be avoided. But I think we can take this lesson a little further. When we are dealing with others, especially those new to emergency services, “don’t run” should take on new meaning. We need to work with these new members and instill in them early a sense that slowing down and learning things right will keep them, and us, safe in the future. If you think back to when you were new, you probably wanted to learn and do everything “right now”. Remember that feeling when you are working with new members and don’t discourage the sentiment, but teach them not to run, as there will be time for it all in the future. I remember being gung-ho and wanting to learn everything right away. I wanted to get training on running the pump, but the Chief kept saying there would be time for that later. Later did come, and along with it a time when my department had few qualified pump operators. It then seemed that I was always outside running the pump, when I certainly would have liked to have been in on a line. During this time, I saw my first Chief at a mutual aid call and asked why he ever taught me to run a pump. He didn’t say it, but the knowing grin said “I told you there would be time”.
The second lesson that has stuck with me is “Keep back 500 feet”. Now we have all seen this on the back of emergency apparatus. We know that we want the public to stay back and give us room to operate. We also know that it doesn’t much matter who is following too closely, a civilian vehicle and a firefighters vehicle look pretty similar in the rear view mirror (unless you are following so closely that you can’t be seen in those mirrors!). What else can we learn from that sign? How about keeping far enough back, literally and figuratively, to be able to see the big picture? This applies to emergency scenes as well as other circumstances. Do we look at the big picture and see that teaching fire prevention could save civilian lives and ease the pain that we feel when we respond to a fire that is beyond us being able to save a life? Do we teach a new members not to get tunnel vision and to continue to “keep back” and look at the big picture?
The last lesson that I want to address is “never stop learning”. I do a lot of training all over the State. I learn from each and every class that I am involved in. If you ask anyone who has been in a basic class that I have taught or assisted with, you will find that I have encouraged students to continue on with their training. The fire service is very dynamic. There are always new technologies and new techniques to learn. We have also learned over the years that it is important to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically. I encourage everyone to challenge themselves to learn about the emergency services constantly. Remember that you can always learn from others, including the newest of members. Sometimes working with them teaches you lessons that are every bit as important as any lesson taught in a classroom.
If you think back over your time in emergency services, be it two weeks, two years, two decades or half a century, I’m sure that you can think of people that have had a big influence on who you are today. Now think about those that you serve with and realize that these are the very people that will influence the group that makes up the emergency services two years, two decades or half a century from now. You are those people. I challenge you to realize that and to live up to the standards of those that have influenced you. Be a good mentor.
The three lessons that I discussed bring to my mind three specific people who are not here today, but continue to influence the emergency services of Vermont. My dad, John Oxholm, taught me not to run. To this day, if I catch myself starting to run on a scene I can hear him admonish me (not too subtly, I might add) to slow down. I’ve been told by several others that he influenced that they still hear this admonition as well.
Keeping back 500 feet was taught to me more indirectly. Chief Fenwick Estey taught this lesson to a young firefighter “two or three years ago”. Chief Tom Estey clearly remembers the day his Chief taught him that lesson and shares it with firefighters throughout the State. Fenwick continues to share his knowledge through his son. Remember, what you teach today will be passed on for years to come.
Deputy Chief Ray Davison was the strongest proponent for lifelong learning that I have ever known. He sat in as many classes next to me as a student as he sat in front of me as an instructor. He was the epitome of a mentor, always setting a good example, be it on the fire ground, the classroom or in a casual discussion.
Now I want to challenge you. Be a mentor, be a good mentor. One who not only teaches how to deploy a hose line or splint a fracture, but one who teaches how to be a firefighter or an EMS provider in the bigger sense.