Crossroads

By: Mark vonAppen

An ode to the many mentors I have tried to emulate over the years.  You will be sorely missed.


The economic tumult  gripping the nation has the American fire service at a crossroads.  Much wisdom, talent, and drive has transitioned into life outside the firehouse.  Thousands of years of firefighting experience will be gone forever.

Suddenly, the future isn’t what it used to be.

Those leaders, mentors, and friends will for eternity be a part of the collective consciousness that is the fire service going forward.  They live on as we perform our daily duties in the manner in which they taught us.  These icons will be immortalized in our firehouses in the oral history that is story time at the dinner table.   There are stories of comedy, drama, and heartbreak as we experienced personal and professional triumph or tragedy, always as family.  Personalities and exploits grow larger and more colorful with the passing of time, the fires bigger, the rescues more harrowing.

We stand to lose much in the coming years in many different ways, but  what we are losing out on most of all is time.  We are losing time with our brothers and sisters forced to leave before they were ready.  We are losing fire service life experience and we are losing our human infrastructure.  The kids that we were when we entered the fire service always had mentors, champions of brotherhood and upholders of principle, standing along side us to keep us straight when we were unsure of where to go or what to do.

The old guys aren’t going to be there anymore when we turn to them on scene or in the firehouse.   We can reach out to them by phone or by email, but when there isn’t discretionary time available, what are we to do?  The fire ground won’t wait for us to make a decision.  We must pick up the sabre and lead the charge.  One who wishes to blend into the surroundings cannot lead the assault on the future.  We are the ones that the next age group will look to when they are anxious and unsure.  We are the old guys now.  It’s time to move on to the next chapter.  We must be out front and lead.  It is our duty to develop the next generation leaders.  As new leaders ourselves, we should not take the job lightly.  It is an awesome responsibility that we have on our shoulders, but we will find our way we listen to the voices of our mentors as we bear the weight of the new badge.

“We are the old guys now.  It’s time to move on to the next chapter.  We must be out front and lead.”

When you are in doubt, look to those in your life and career who have inspired you to do the right thing.  It’s a tough choice sometimes between what’s right and what’s easy.  We must do right so that the new generation has a clear view of the correct path.  It is our turn to invest in the importance of our profession and plot a course for the future.  This investment will not yield wealth in the monetary sense, but rather it will pay dividends in the form of a rich legacy.

We are the current guardians of the fire service.  We owe it to the citizens of the communities in which we serve, the next generation of firefighters, those who came before us, and to one another to get it right.  Now it is our turn, we are the champions of a proud service that is rich in history and steeped in tradition.  The credit for future success goes to those who came before us and showed us the right way.  We will eternally hold them in the highest esteem and seek to carry on the expectations, traditions, and standards they established for us to maintain and perhaps someday surpass.

We have a lot of hard work and institutional soul searching ahead.
There are only two options when it comes commitment, either you’re in or you’re out.  We have been shown that there is no such thing as a life in between.  To exist stuck between is merely to be.  If we seek to truly live we must commit passionately to that which we hold true.  Anything less is time wasted. 

Big changes aren’t on the horizon, they are here today, and more changes are promised.  As the fire service goes through its book of changes, our resilient spirit will see us through this period of uncertainty.  With the lessons of our mentors in our collective soul, we will find our way as we always have.
We will see it through.  We will do right.

You know who you are.  Alpha Michael Foxtrot.

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