Friday, July 19, 2013


By Mark vonAppen

As I climbed aboard the engine, one of our rookies asked me a question.  This particular rookie asks a lot of questions, most of them thought provoking, forcing me to think harder than I'd like, and exposing my glaring lack of knowledge in certain areas.  It's hard as a captain to say, "I don't know," or, "I've never thought about it that way."  He causes me to bury my head in manuals or extend questions to my fire service buddies via text messages to find the right answer.  He usually finds out on his own, before I do, rapping on the office door he says, "I looked around and here's what I came up with cap..."

And so I learn.  Again. 

As he sat behind the wheel and pondered, the question of the moment was, "How do you stay motivated at work?"  Without hesitation I blurted out, "You guys keep me motivated."  It was the unabashed truth, it was reflex.  Like anyone, my energy ebbs and flows, my enthusiasm rises and plummets, but the one thing that remains constant is the awe that I feel as I see the expertise and compassion of the amazing people that inhabit our profession. 
"People are more important than any equipment, innovation, or technology we bring to bear." 
How do I stay motivated?  I stay motivated by watching people learn and grow.  I am buoyed by the energy of those who are experts in our field, and they are everywhere.  I am pulled along by the inquisition of a rookie, a crew of 6 huddled in the office around a flickering computer screen watching training videos, or the grit of a 62 year old man slamming a 24' extension ladder against a building with authority just as he did 30 years ago.  Passion is energy, when it is unleashed it is on par with a religious experience.  I am in a unique position as an officer.  Most times, I stand back and watch as my crew works in concert to solve a problem.  I watch as they learn, coach, and lead each other.   I step in only when necessary.

I said to the rookie, "You know what?  You're kind of a weird dude, but you're my kind of weird. Keep asking questions, it's what keeps us young."  

What is my motivation?  Our people.  They are more important than any equipment, innovation, or technology we bring to bear.  We aren't much if not for our people.  People are who we serve and people are what make our great and noble profession everything that it is.  


  1. I believe that we truly "feed" from each others motivation to succeed. It is so crucial for our mentors and leaders to find ways to start this never-ending cycle of instilling motivation, loyalty, and passion so we get it back in return.

    1. Lori,

      I know I draw from the enthusiasm of others. I am continually inspired by those around me, not only at work, but through the talented friends I have met through writing. I am not always up, but with the help of my brothers and sisters most everyday is a SICK day. I believe this energy comes from everyone, hence my thoughts on leading from everywhere.

      Thank you for commenting and reading the blog.