Sometimes the best words you can write are someone else’s. There has been a lot of “drama” happening in the fire service lately, both nationally and locally. No one sums up the feelings of the Brotherhood as well as Bob Pressler. Here is the speech he gave at the 2nd Annual FOOLS convention in Florida. It speaks volumes towards how we should conduct ourselves in the face of all of this turmoil. Enjoy it as I did.
Good evening Brother and Sister FOOLs; I want to thank the Palm Beach County Fools, the International FOOL’s E-board, and especially Jon Ferguson, who had to deal with me, for the honor of addressing this group. Not to mention for helping me escape the beginnings of winter at home, where we just happened to get our first measurable snow this morning. The 82 here is a little better than the 28 at home.
A lot has happened over the last 14 months, to the Fire Service, and to the FOOL’s, both here and across the country. Nationally, the Sep’t 11 disaster, and locally the training tragedy, cost the fire service and the FOOL’s many Brothers, including the 4 we just attended a memorial service for. Throughout these hard times, the FOOL’s have always been there, with words of encouragement, as a shoulder to cry on, or just as a sounding board to vent at. After Sep’t 11, the FOOL’s site had the most up to date information on who was working, who was missing and who had been seen.
The FOOL’s Website has become a place to stop and check on the pulse of the Fire Service.
This group of letters, assembled over time, has become a platform for us to live by. I would like to share some of my thoughts on these letters and what they mean to me.
The Fire service, as a whole, is collectively still trying to recover from the effects of Sep’t 11. The 343 members of the FDNY who made the supreme sacrifice that day will always be in our hearts and forever on our minds. As part of our FOOL’s “signature”, R-F- B, “Remember Fallen Brothers”, these heroes should never and will never be forgotten. This should also include ALL of our fallen Brothers, no matter where they were from, or the matter in which they died. Their names have been added to long list of those that have laid down their lives so that others may live.
And although “EGH”, Everybody Goes Home” is not always possible, it is part of what we strive for. It is why we train, it is why we read, it is why we interact with each other. We need to share the knowledge. The more we share, the more we pass on what we have learned, the safer we will be. The fewer funerals we will have to go to, the more of our Brothers and Sisters that will go home. Because it is all about protecting each other.
We are each other’s keepers, and FTM-PTB is our motto. F>> The Mutts, Protect the Brothers. And make no mistake about it the Mutts are everywhere. In NYC, the sacrifices on 9/11 have already been put on the back burner as the politicians line up to make budget cuts, close companies and not pay a fair wage to the Brothers and Sisters of the FDNY.
In California, a Chief has gone on the rampage about the length of his peoples’ mustaches. It just so happens that these are the motivated people in his organization, the ones that have started a campaign about Company pride and tradition. This is his answer to pride and Brotherhood. His Department is in turmoil, but the written reprimands about hair length will certainly help boost morale and keep the Department running smoothly. He has become a new Nero, fiddling while his “Rome” burns down.
Everywhere we look there are mutts that cannot, will not, or don’t want to understand the Brotherhood of the Fire service.
The last part of our signature is KTF, or Keep the Faith. With all that has happened we must believe. We must have faith in ourselves and in the others that think like us. They can transfer us, they can make you cut your mustache, the can tell you what you can’t wear on your helmet, but never let them break your spirit!
The best part about the FOOL’s is that this is a group of people that wants to be part of an organization that doesn’t owe anyone anything. From its humble start, a couple of guys with a vision of what the Fire service meant to them, started an organization. Now in the history of the fire service there have been hundreds of organizations that have started and than fallen by the way side.
But this group seemed to be a little different. I remember Mike Stallings telling me at Indy, that he and a couple of guys had this group; a group of guys that were interested in the history and the tradition of the “Job”. To try to keep the spirit alive, they were forming an organization, and the name was the FOOL’s! And I am saying to myself, yeah Fools!!! But from this unusual beginning, we sit here tonight with Brothers and Sisters from all over, attending a National Fools convention.
I am proud to be a FOOL. I have belonged to many organizations within the Fire Service, but none with a mission like this one. In NYC we called ourselves the Fire 500. We figured that out of the almost 12000 members of the FD, there were maybe 500 of us that cared about the History and tradition of the job. And it always seemed like the numbers were shrinking. Other FD’s laughed that they had the Fire 30, or the Fire 1, depending on how bad things seemed to be.
But now we have the Fire 1000’s. And the name has been changed to the FOOL’s.
And make no mistake about it; this organization has a voice! One of the reasons is because we do not have to answer to anyone but ourselves. We are not here to make money; we are not here to bargain for raises for our membership, we are not here to run a business. We have no hidden agenda. We are here to preserve the history, the tradition and the brotherhood of the fire service. We are here for each other.
The support that was offered to me from this group after my “e-mailed dismissal” from both the FDIC and Fire Engineering magazine was to put it mildly, unbelievable. The postings, the e-mails, and the phone calls were great. I sometimes feel that I let some of you down by not posting more. I apologize to you all, but especially Mike, Tim, and others that tried to gently prod me in that direction. I didn’t want to get into a war of words with an English major and I wasn’t sure that the guest book was the place to fight this battle. But due to some recent events and the recent postings asking for information, I feel I must say something.
The entire thing is really very simple. In 2001, PW put a new person in charge of both the FDIC’s and FE. This person put pressure on everyone that worked for both the magazine and the shows. An issue concerning the SCBA’s used for some of the HOT classes arose. I took a stand for the instructors, based on their preference, prior usage, and safety of both the students and the instructors. This did not sit well with the new regime. Mr. Manning got caught in the middle and betrayed some things that I had said in confidence to him.
It went downhill from there, and the end result was my termination in July of this year. I was not fired because I stole money, I was not fired because I was being paid to drive Interspiro out of Indianapolis, and I was not on the payroll of any other manufacturer. These were a few of the things that supposedly were behind my termination. I’ve heard that certain employees of FE have told people, “Oh you don’t know the whole story” said with a wink. As if there is some secret reason I was fired. Well there isn’t. I was fired for doing my job; I was fired for standing up for the instructors. I was fired because Mr. Manning picked Scott Swardron and PW over myself and the Fire service.
Think about it. If it was only because of my dealings with the FDIC, why was I also terminated from all dealings with the magazine?
At the last meeting I had with Manning prior to being fired, I was told I was going to get some helping running the shows. When I questioned the need for this help, I was giving some vague answers as to why this help was needed. I asked again and finally he told me he had to “put people loyal to FE” in position between the instructors and myself. Over 10 years of writing, supplying photos, and reviewing articles. Asking people to submit articles and photographs. 6 years of the FDIC in Indy and 2 in California. And he questioned my loyalty.
The bottom line is Mr. Manning was afraid that I had too much power, more than he had. He said that as long as I headed up the FDIC, that there was always the chance that I would have the instructors go on strike. No specific reason was given why we would go on strike. So I had to go.
The last thing he said to me when I called him to verify my E-mailed firing was “I had to do what was right for the company”. I remember when Manning used to do what was right for the fire service and the Brothers.
Manning and his new boss toss the “Brother” term around pretty easily. But it is a hollow term. If they believed in the true Brotherhood, why is there a “black list” of instructors who have not been asked back to teach at the FDIC? Most on this list were my most vocal supporters. Most sent letters to Manning at the beginning of this, expressing support for me. Now they find themselves and the people on their teams uninvited. This is their payback. So it is OK to be a Brother as long as you don’t go against “Big Brother”.
The hardest part for me to except was not my termination. The hardest thing for me to except was that I found that many people do not live by their word. I had been told by many of the instructors several times in past years, when little things had caused some bumps in the road, “if you go, I go”. And now, some people are having trouble living by those words. People that have called me “Brother”, people that I have respected for their integrity, people that I have supported, that I considered friends, have now turned their back on me. That is the hardest part.
The FDIC will go on. It is too big a moneymaker for PW. I have been replaced; the people who have supported me and ended up blacklisted have been replaced, as well as others who decided not to return even though they didn’t make the list. No one was or is irreplaceable. The HOT training at Indy and in Sac will go on. But as Greg Falkenthal said to me after this had started, the training will never be as good as it was. And that is because we taught more than firematics. We also taught about Brotherhood, about tradition, about our history. Not only did we teach it, we live by it too. The people that have stood by have made great personnel sacrifices to do so. They have pulled articles from the magazine after waiting forever to have that first one published. They have removed themselves from the advisory boards of both the show and magazines, and they have decided not to return to teach at the FDIC. They have done this on their own, in support of a Brother and the Brotherhood. The are men of their word and I applaud them and I thank them.
I would like to recommend that we add another “sign” to our signature.
Do the Right Thing.
Now with everything going on in our lives, both personnel and professional, this may be sometimes hard to do. We are always pulled in several directions when there are tough decisions to be made. Even after weighting all the possibilities or options, decisions are sometimes still very hard to make. But, under closer examination, there usually is a “right thing”. It may take personnel sacrifice, it may not be what you really would want to do, but it is the correct thing to do.
In our professional lives, especially for younger F/F’s, I have “borrowed” something from a Brother of mine, Tim Klett of the FDNY. It is called the 4 UPS.
The first is, Listen up: When you are first starting in the Fire Service, there is a lot going on. You are entering a culture that is unlike any other one on this planet. You will hear stories, tales and just plain BS. But listen carefully. That is our past talking. All of the information has value; it is up to you to determine how much value it has to you. Listen to the older, over-the-hill, past-their-prime, malcontents, for the little “pearls of wisdom” that aren’t in any textbooks. A lot of important information that will help keep you safe and alive on the fire ground is not written down. The fire service is very young. We are loosing our experience. The F/F’s that went to fires during the war years are slowly retiring. Talk to them before they leave. We are loosing our history, we are loosing our past. Don’t let this happen.
The second up is, Clean up: The firehouse is your second home. Treat it as such. And if you are the junior F/F working, you are the lowest on the totem pole. You get the dirty work, you get to do the dishes, and you get to mop the floors, and you get to clean the toilets. This is not based on any prejudices of race, sex, or religion. It is based on the fact that all the junior people before you did it, or should have done it. You do it until the next probie is assigned to that company. It is part of belonging, it is doing what you should be doing. And it is always pretty funny, because in my experience, the ones that piss and moan about doing the chores usually end up doing them by themselves for a long time. But the ones that just do it, the ones that are the first to get up to head for the sink after a meal, usually find that they have help. They become excepted into the “family” a little quicker.
The third up is, Step up: this goes hand in hand with the previous “up” but there is more. Be involved in your company and in your department. Attend company functions, help run them if possible. In NYC every company I ever worked in would have a company picnic in the summer, a Christmas party in the fire house in December, and a dinner-dance sometime during the year. Become a productive member of your Company.
Above all, go to funerals and services, especially the line of duty ones. Pay your respects. Become a part of the fire service by deed and not by mouth.
The last up is my favorite; Shut up. This one goes well with listen up, but actually goes a little further. Spend more time listening and doing than talking about it. Show by your actions and your deeds what type of F/F and member of this great Brotherhood you are.
In our personnel lives, DTRT, means take care of our families. Take care of your loved ones. Think before you act. And when all else fails, go with your heart, Do the right thing.
Say as you do; do as you say.
Say what you mean; mean what you say.
Remember, A man is only as good as his word. Talk is cheap; backing your talk up is priceless.