Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We Do That

By Mark vonAppen

If you ask any fire service brother or sister what our job entails, most of us would reply, “How much time have you got?”  Our craft is an all encompassing, all risk profession in which we respond to about everything anyone can possibly think of. 

Fires?  We do that.
Medical emergencies?  We do that.
Car wrecks?  We do that.
Cat up a tree?  We do that.
Flooded basement?  We do that.

The list goes on, and on, for eternity.  If you can think of it, we’ve either done it, or we've been asked to do it by someone, somewhere, at some time.  We truly do it all and we have to celebrate the diversity of our profession.
“We do that” is rooted in a belief in service before self, treating everyone with respect, and working through adversity.
“We do that” comes from us.  It is ours, and it is a current that runs from the bottom to the top of our industry.  It is more than a mantra, it is our way, and it truly embodies who we are.  “We do that” was born from bearing witness to, and being a part of a group of brothers and sisters who are driven by a spirit of innovation and a desire to be part of something that is bigger than any one of us.  “We do that” is our collective soul. 

We make a difference in people's lives with every interaction, not only when the bell hits.  We have the opportunity to leave our fingerprint on every person we meet, whether customers or co-workers, as we share our passion for the craft.  “We do that” is rooted in a belief in service before self, treating everyone with respect, and working through adversity.

A select few people in the world have the privilege of  helping people on the worst day of their lives. 

We do that.

We are fire service brothers and sisters.  Do we make a difference in people's lives?  

Yes, we do that. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Latch Key Kids

By Mark vonAppen

If you're from a generation raised on your own, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.  

Our adolescence looked like this:

We had two working parents, if they were even still together, and a front door key shoe-laced around our neck.  We'd let ourselves in the house after school, turn on MTV, and fend for ourselves until someone came home after dark with take out and bellowed, "Dinner!"  Meals were spent with the TV perched atop the table and scant, absent-minded conversations regarding a day nobody really cared about.  "How was your day Jimmy?"  The answer, "I'm so bored I could scream and I don't think anybody cares about me."

"That's nice dear."

We'd go through the motions, making nice until the nightly ritual was over, retreating to our tiny boxes and taking refuge with the flickering light of our surrogate while mom and dad self-medicated to remain numb to the monotony.  On my own, that's where I'm most comfortable, leave me alone with my stuff, it's easier than dealing with reality.  Annual family portraits did nothing to betray the lie we lived.  White shirts, blue jeans, and big smiles.  


Our belief system is based upon everyone and everything that ever walked away from us. We have it backwards because of who we were brought up to be, always seeking to please someone who isn't and never was there.  Loneliness, boredom, and fear became our friends.  Unspent energy led us to act out, cave in to peer pressure, and blame our problems on everybody else.

If you blame your upbringing for your problems, then quit. Let go of it all.

Mom and dad, the center of our universe as latch key kids, left us alone and we had to face the possibility that they were never coming back.  This was not the worst thing in the world; we had the run of the place and the possibilities were limited only by imagination.  Now, we've grown up and moved down the road, but still there is no support system.   

When we let ourselves inside the door of fire service, we discover over time that the organization, our new, but nonetheless drunk custodians, has left us and now we are latch-key kids of the craft.  We are the forgotten generation, left to fend for ourselves with low bid equipment, no oversight, no training budget, vanishing pensions, and organizations that have all but walked away from everything that makes them what they are, the people.  As the organization plummets toward oblivion with catchy slogans, bloated mission statements, and new patches, we discover that they abandoned us and it pisses us off.  We can either sit around and blame everyone else for all of our problems or we can make something of ourselves.  We can take control.  We must find a new hope that can only be realized when you let go.  Salvation can only be achieved through surrender.  Give up, help isn't coming and nobody cares.  Give up on the notion that someone else will rescue you and accept your situation. 

"Excuses only work for those who make them.  If you don’t take ownership of your career it will pass you by and end up owning you."

Let go.  
Think I'm nuts?  Okay...
We must stop looking to external sources for validation, salvation, redemption, whatever you call it.  We have to stop blaming others for our shortcomings, wishing for some parental figure to validate who we are, and tell us it's going to be ok.  There is no hero, and maybe nobody likes you.  Who cares?  It won't be ok until you accept that.  We must find the inner strength to reject the establishment and find it in ourselves to go on.  We have to do it on our own.  

This whole thing is bigger than us, and quitting is not who we are.  Give up if you're blaming others.  Look around the house and see who's there with you.  There are a lot of brothers and sisters who share your burden.  We are the latch key kids of the fire service, with no direction or leadership.  You must surrender to the notion that no one can do it but you, but you must not surrender to apathy.  There is a lot of freedom in "The Latch Key FD."   Being abandoned can create self-reliance, the ability to adapt, and a desire to contribute needs within the family.  Nobody is home to tell you that you can't reach for greatness, nobody is home to crush your dreams.  
It is only through a belief in the value of people that we can see any of this through.  We do it by believing in our big four, do your job, treat people right, go all out, and be all in.  We are in the people business and our people matter.  If latch key kids are what we are, then we will raise ourselves in a manner that is consistent with our core values.  We know what they are, we live by them, and they belong to us, not to the ones who left us all alone.  It's bigger than the fire service.  These virtues are transcendent.  

Anger is better than indifference.  If people are angry with you because of your passion for the job and family, then so be it.  Hate me for who I am, don't love me for who I'm not.  A corporate mentality has snuck in the back door of the fire service, eroding our family values and making things more valuable than people.  We have to bring family back.  We can't sit around and wait for it to happen.  We have to make our own opportunities.  The stakes are too high for us to give up on ourselves.  

Stop asking why somebody isn't here to fix it and do it yourself.  

For those who don't wait: BB, CB, CO, DM, GL, TR, and Captain David Heath (NHCFD).

Monday, October 7, 2013


By Mark vonAppen

I am quick to anger, motivated by passion, I have my principles and there have been many times when I have been tempted to ring out from being monumentally frustrated and exhausted from jumping through hoops and over hurdles.  The greatest source of my frustration is watching talent and motivation squandered.  I hate to see broken bones.  I don't know what the keys to success are necessarily, but I know the quickest route to failure is trying to please everyone, or trying to punish everyone.  Call me old fashioned, but I suppose I'm a victim of who I was as a kid, back before the age of instant gratification and Jack Ass Nation, back when people mattered.  I believe in service before self, and I also believe that some of us have lost sight of how to treat one another.  

Sometimes we break our own bones. 

I know that we have to play to our strengths and our strength lies in our people.  We don’t need our 15 minutes, we need sustained effort towards excellence, because it’s everyone’s responsibility.  In order to get to where we need to go we have to create a culture of belief.  So many organizations get it entirely wrong, change the patch, create a hollow mission statement, issue forth dogma, and rule through intimidation.  Those tasked with leadership must remember that strength comes from their people.  People are the bones of any organization.

"Show them what you have in your soul after stress has stripped everything away.  Show them strength."

The bitter reality is this, you're only as valuable as your last performance and people have short memories.  Some are constantly seeking to improve their own standing and as harsh as it sounds, they'll do most anything, including walking on others backs in order to get there.  Organizations that sustain success keep their core group of contributors united in cause, acknowledging their accomplishments, recognizing that the key to success are strong bones, strong firehouse leadership, and core chemistry.  Strong core leadership ensures that the role players fall in step and comply with the program.  Without strong leadership in the firehouse the new faces, young, impressionable rookies, can easily seek a lower level.  A house divided cannot stand - that's what they say anyway.

As leaders at any level, we must never quit.  In the same breath, I'll tell you that we must know when to quit.  We must remember that proving we are right and proving someone else wrong are bad reasons to continue a fight.  The best reasons to push forward when things are rough are your bones, the people, sound principles, and strong beliefs that are people driven. 

How do you rise above it?  Remember that it's a game; you can beat them at it.  Push harder, stiffen your resolve, and maintain your composure.  Show them what you have in your soul after stress has stripped everything away.  Show them strength.

Treat people right and they'll walk through fire for you.