The choices we make

Don't forget about those who make the journey and the sacrifices along the way with you in your career

After a few months of absence and a transition into a new career, I've finally had a chance to get back to one of the things I love to do and that is writing with FireRescue1.

For those of you who follow my columns, you know I generally focus on firefighter safety and my series on the 16 Life Safety Initiatives. Next column I will be returning to that normal format, but in this one I want to share a more personal note of my career choices with just a flavor of self-safety at the end.

In the fire service, there are many opportunities to excel and make a difference in what we do and to make this business better. Whether it is attending classes and trainings, teaching at the local and/or national level, writing columns in trade publications/websites and textbooks, or even developing new products and services, at some point most of us have participated, or are working to participate in one, if not all, of the aforementioned.

From starting as a volunteer firefighter to the current position I hold now, my career has been about choices and sacrifices. I look back at the amount of time I spent attending training as a young firefighter, taking every class that the Georgia Fire Academy (GFA) could offer.

Eventually, those classes and trainings led to promotions, which brought new opportunities to pursue and the desire to excel as a leader. The realization that to be more successful I needed a college education again took me away from home at nights and weekends.

Then, after the chance to serve as a Fire Chief, I set my sights on the Executive Fire Officer Program, which took me away for weeks at a time, and then locked me away at home for more weeks to write the research projects.

A new chapter of my life opened when I was asked to speak at the GFA, then at state conferences, and even now nationally. I've been able to capture my passion of firefighter safety and public fire and life safety education into messages that apparently make sense to some.

I'm fortunate to still be asked to come speak, be interviewed, participate in podcasts or tapings, or attend meetings as a subject matter resource (I'll never qualify myself as an expert). I've traveled and seen places I never would have thought in my lifetime.

Great opportunities
Throughout my 22-year career I've held some pretty spectacular positions. I always thought that I would join one department and stay there until I retired. As we serve in a position, things within the organization may push us to find new opportunities.

Ever hear of the book, "Who Moved My Cheese," by Spencer Johnson, M.D.? We may be perfectly comfortable in our life and something changes, which we can hang around and be less productive because of how we feel or we can venture out into the world to find something that makes us happy again, like new cheese.

I've served as a Firefighter-Paramedic at a department in the city where I grew up, to an Educator for the State Fire Marshal's Office, and as a Fire Chief back in my home county for another city.

Each time I enjoyed my job but felt something else was out there. Most recently I served for two years with the District of Columbia Fire and EMS as the Director of Community Affairs. It was certainly one of the best learning experiences I have had in my professional career, and a place where I developed many friendships.

But it was also one of the most difficult personal choices I have ever made for my family. For my first six months of employment in DC, my family resided in Georgia while I lived in DC. Seeing my family drive off and leaving me behind was something I hope to never experience again. Not only was this traumatic for me, it was more so for them.

Understand that of all the classes, conferences, meetings, jobs, late nights writing magazines articles or preparing a lesson plan, they were choices I made. Those choices often lead to sacrifices, some that you may not pay attention to.

I've been married for 18 years and have two sons, one 15 and one 10. During all of the craziness of me wanting to be a part of this business and to give something back, there were those who were making sacrifices with me. I missed a lot of the boys getting on and off the buses, attending school functions, picking them and/or taking them to the doctor when they were sick, and just hanging out with them and being Dad.

My wife assumed a lot of the dual role provider. When she was tired or not feeling well, she didn't have that support mechanism. Because of the choices I made, it took away some of the choices that she had.

But God has a plan for everything. We may not understand it, or why it takes us down the paths we are on. But I do believe that the sacrifices that we make for trying to do the right thing will open new doors and present new opportunities.

With that, I have found a new home with Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Ala. It is a school that I have had a long time relationship and friendship with. I have been entrusted to help build and implement many new fire programs, work with some wonderful people, and I have an opportunity that will encourage and allow me to participate at a new and different level within this profession that I so love. But that's not the most important thing …

It takes me three to five minutes to get to work now. I can see my boys get on the bus in the morning and still be at work before 7:30 a.m. I can come home at lunch if I need or want to, meet the family within just minutes after leaving work, and pick them up from school if they are sick without missing too much time out of the office.

I will still travel and be a part of the business, but I can make the most out of the time I have at home. Simply put, our quality of time and life has dramatically improved.

No regrets
So if you've read up to this point, you may ask, "Billy, those were the choices that you made. What's your point?" My point is this. I don't regret any of the choices I made for my career. I know I've worked hard to be where I am and what I am able to provide for my family, but I have a strong family that has supported and encouraged me along the way and of all the sacrifices we've made together, I know they are proud of me.

But while you may work hard to build your career, become a national speaker, a columnist, a Fire Chief, or become the next big thing in this profession, don't forget about those who make the journey and the sacrifices along the way with you.

When you are tired, they are tired with you. When you are frustrated, they feel it, too. When you use vacation time to go teach or do something work related, they ask why you can't take vacation to do the same to be with them.

When you travel and see new and amazing places, they wish they could be there, too, but their choice wasn't the same. When people say hurtful things about you, it hurts them more than it does you because they don't understand it while you know it's part of the job and that some people are just mean.

When you are on shift or travels, they worry about you. When they hear about an LODD, they wonder if it could happen to you, too. Simply, you can't do this career by yourself.

I know there are also those that come in and do their job effectively and go home at the end of the shift with no desire, interest, and/or time to participate other than what is required.

That is certainly acceptable and often we need those folks to keep the rest of us grounded. But I know a lot of these people who also own successful side businesses in lawn, construction, or whatever, that are in the same position. It is very easy to become consumed in work even if you are on shift and own a side business. It's all the same.

So where is that little flavor of safety I mentioned? Just a few quick points because I know I'm not alone out there and someone who has experienced or is experiencing some of this now. Here are a few lessons that I learned:

  • If there is any situational awareness that is more important than that on the fireground, it's at home.
  • Make home your personal Command Post
  • Conduct a PAR on the accountability of your relationship with your family
  • Be the RIT team for your family when they are trouble and they need you
  • Spend time in home rehab with your family to help put the energy back into your relationship with them
  • Wear your seat belt because life is full of unexpected stops, turns, and accelerations
  • Everyone Goes Home means you, too!

See ya next month!

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