As County Fire Coordinator, I have been hosting a weekly radio program for well over 15 years with co-host and veteran firefighter Frank Hutton. The purpose of the program, when we started it, was to utilize the air time to recruit members for our volunteer fire departments and ambulance corps - thus the name of the program, "Who wants to be a volunteer?" While that is still our core mission, the program has evolved into a program involving many different topics related to the emergency services, including summaries of recent emergencies, fire prevention associated with various holidays/hazards, interviews with fire/EMS leaders, book reviews, etc. One of the most interesting parts of the program is the numerous phone calls we receive from residents and members of the emergency services.
A week or two ago, the grandfather of a young firefighter called into the program to discuss a recent tragedy and before ending the call, reminded me that I had mentioned to him once that one of his firefighter grandsons stood out as an interior fire fighter. I recalled the conversation on the air and mentioned that any fire department or company is very lucky if they have a handful of firefighters of his grandson's caliber.
I had read many years ago about a Roman General who said that out of 1,000 soldiers, 100 or so would win the battle for him, and out of that 100, there were three or four that would lead the charge and motivate the others to finish the battle successfully. I think this is true in firefighting as well. It takes all kinds of talents and personalities for a department to be successful in its mission. However, there is that small percentage of firefighters who have that rare ability to turn things around by positioning themselves and their teams at just the right spot at just the right time, to save the day or lives and property.
Recently, we sent firefighters to Erie County for the snow emergency, as part of the state-wide Mutual Aid Plan. Before they left, I met with the group and mentioned to one firefighter that I was not surprised to see him heading up. One of their members asked me why, and I said because at almost every major incident that their department responds to, this individual's head seems to pop up from the smoke and steam or the middle of the wreckage right in the key and sometimes most dangerous area.
The first firefighter that I discussed is much younger but developing into that elite category of firefighters who seem to make miracles happen with the combination of training, experience, and courage. I told the grandfather that he should be very proud of his grandson and so should his Chief. Firefighters like these should be nurtured, recognized and encouraged. We should be constantly looking for potential men and women who fit this category and encourage them to develop their full potential. We can win or lose battles with or without them!