I hope wherever you are going professionally, it is a place where you have passion. Throughout my career in the fire service, I always enjoyed going to work. I felt as great about my fire service career on the last day as I did the first.
As my son started to ask questions about a career in the fire service I realized that he knew about the schedule, benefits, pay and camaraderie. The question I asked him was, "How do you feel about giving back to the community?" He looked at me with disdain as he let me know that was why he was considering such a career. What a great answer!
While not everyone who enters the fire service feels that way, my guess is that the majority of people entering the fire services do, and should.
I have found that most of the firefighters give back to the community not just while on duty but off duty as well. Their off-duty activities include coaching kids, church, fraternal groups, political work, non-profit work, schools, etc. While I can't speak for all firefighters, I can let you know about my experiences, and why they were worthwhile to me.
More than thirty years ago the firefighter who was hired right after me was burned in a small plane crash in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He was treated in San Francisco at Bothin Burn Unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. After his recovery, he and two other firefighters started a Benefit Golf Tournament that first supported the burn unit and from the second year on raised money for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.
I was involved with the tournament for the first nine years as a helper for the day, occasionally picking up gifts or dropping off plaques. When it looked like the tournament was going to stop, a group of firefighters banded together and said they would help put on the tournament, and we did.
I helped lead the tournament for the next six years until I was close to retirement, and then one of the directors stood up to say that he would now lead it, which he did for the following six years.
At the time I was taking over the golf tournament, someone from the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation came to a union meeting to recognize the previous work on behalf of the AARBF and to let us know they were in dire need of camp counselors for their week long summer camp, Champ Camp, for burn survivors ages — five to sixteen. Myself, my wife and a co-worker, became "Champ Camp" Counselors that summer.
After numerous years as a counselor for Champ Camp, fishing trips, ski trips, Christmas parties, baseball games, assisting with interviews, participating on the Executive Board of Directors, I guess you could say my wife and I are involved with the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.
As Stephanie, a former Executive Director for the AARBF once stated, "To be a good Champ Camp Counselor you have to recognize what you are getting out of it." She said it was important to know. At the time I could not understand the reason it was important to know, I just wanted to give back to the community.
I thought for me AARBF was a great fit. After all, we go to the emergency scene and then the patients are whisked away and we usually don't see them again. Even though I was not seeing the same patients, it completed the circle for me as an extension of what I was doing as a firefighter.
So here I am, getting to see where the money from the golf tournament was going by being a new counselor at Champ Camp. I was getting ready to counsel children. I thought I had some patience and that I might be good at the job (I had a 15 and 18 year old at home and they seemed to be turning out all right), but I was still a little unsure of myself.
I get to camp and meet other people who want to give back, mostly from the fire service. It was awesome! Then the kids arrive and I find that while the intimidation of seeing children who are scarred badly, missing appendages and wearing all kinds of gear that I hadn't seen before went away pretty darn quick as they tried working me to get their way.
Wow! When they are in a situation where they don't stand out they are allowed to just be kids. As the week went on I found I was able to give my best stuff to them with, and as you would expect, varying results. What I hadn't counted on was the impact the children would have on me. Teaching a child and having them teach you how to teach them to shoot a bow and arrow when they have no fingers is definitely enriching.
Watching them overcome things that we take for granted everyday and perform to high standards, to break through their comfort zone, and care deeply for one another brought me a great deal of joy.
Not to discourage you, because without the counselors this magical time could not take place, but while any life lessons or just having an adult listen to them was awesome for them, the networking between burn survivors blew me away and seems to give them the grounding that we all need to take chances and grow in life.
So go figure, you give of yourself in a generous spirit and get more in return than you could ever give. I had heard something like that before. I would like to tell you that it is easy, it's not. I would like to tell you that you can never get discouraged but that's not true.
I would like to tell you that there is no time or money expense to you but there are both. But I will tell you that having now done this for years I have friends who I spend very intense times with working together to make this happen.
Some of my co-counselors have died and I felt like my arm had been cut off, even though I had only spent four or five weeks of my life with them. I have watched a whole generation of children with burn injuries grow up. One of the kids in my first cabin has been a counselor for four years now.
Being a counselor, I've gotten to make a difference in someone's life. And that comes from the kids that have told me or from other adults relaying a burn survivor's comments to me; things not to be taken lightly.
So to those of you just starting your fire service career, I envy you. I know some of the things you have to look forward to and I am excited about the changes that you will bring to the fire service. I also look forward to meeting some of you in the trenches of giving to the community off duty.
You are tomorrow's champions. You will be the ones to get an idea on how to make a difference. You will be the leaders that will motivate the firefighters around you. You will find that as you do, the department will be working as efficiently off duty as they do on the emergency ground.
Remember that you do make a difference on duty and off duty.
For information about the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation visit www.aarbf.org.