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Want to Serve With Pride, Integrity and Tradition: Listen to Those That Came Before You

After a recent fire while back at the firehouse, I began thinking of an old-timer at my firehouse who had died a few years ago; “The Old Buzzard”, as he was affectionately known. He served our organization very proudly and always conducted himself in an honorable manner. Always doing what is best for the fire company and never putting himself first. He never looked for recognition for all the good that he did. He actually vehemently despised the notion of being acknowledged over all other members, even though he deserved to be. All he ever wanted for his efforts was for the fire company to continue to prosper.

I learned a lot from him through the years. His death got me thinking about how he conducted himself personally and within the firehouse. With him, the two seemed as one. There was never a persona that he transformed into when he entered the firehouse. He was always cordial, kind and genuinely interested in everyone’s well-being. And I mean everyone.

When I first joined the fire company, I joined with a block of six young guys all about the age of eighteen. We were young and eager. Some members saw us as a threat, wanting to take over. We were, at one point, described as “an element” that we would eventually dissipate. The truth was that we just wanted to fight fires, serve the community and have a place to belong. The Old Buzzard saw us for just that. He appreciated our enthusiasm and encouraged us to stay as long as we’d like to contribute. Four of us eventually served as Chief, so his instinct was pretty good.

But it was how he could relate to every age group that walked through the doors that made him a special figure for all of us. He never huddled with the rest of the “old-timers”, secluded from all others. He treated every member with the same respect no matter how young and inexperienced. He was willing to talk with any one member. He would convey his experiences and knowledge to anyone who would listen. These often came in the form of stories. History of our fire company that was told to him, he would tell to us. I heard many of the same stories repeated, and repeated, over time. At some point I may have rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “oh boy, here comes the story from back in the day of when they had to push the engine downhill each time before they could get it started.” And sometimes I may have teased him a bit by trying to say the next line of his stories before he did. But eventually I stopped and listened… again. I would look to see who else is listening to his story, maybe hearing it for the first time. I would look to see which older member had the respect to politely sit through the story again and see which young kid had the appreciation for what was being said.

The Old Buzzard is not unique to our firehouse. Every firehouse has one. I would even say our firehouse is fortunate enough to still have a few. Our “old-timers” impart experiences and knowledge that serves well on the fire scene or in our personal lives. I hope every firehouse has one half as good as ours. Stop and listen to yours every now and again. You’ll never know when the last chance will be that you’ll have with them.

Now the Old Buzzard's stories, are our stories. His experience and knowledge that he gave to us, is now ours. What we choose do with it is up to us. Maybe, one day, we'll be lucky enough to turn into an "Old Buzzard" ourselves.

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