Friday, July 18, 2014


By Mark vonAppen

There is a difference you can find in those who stand apart from the crowd, those people of character who just get it.  The intangible quality that sets them apart is something completely tangible.  It's called a work ethic, and it is the oft forgotten element on the journey to building, or rebuilding a culture.  You can feel it when you touch a book, when you pick up a tool, or when you wipe your brow when it is slick from sweat. 

Too many times we give accolades for simply showing up, keeping a seat warm, or holding down a spot.  Commendations are handed out like participation ribbons.  We talk change, talk about improved performance, but we go no further.  Changes are made by those who take action.  Activity should never be confused with achievement, and just because you exist doesn't mean you deserve.  

The privilege of wearing the uniform and the gift of service is something that is earned, it's not a right.  Ask yourself, "Who's in there?" Do you remember what it took to get to where you are today?  Do you remember the promises that you made?  Do you remember who you said you'd always be?  Find that person again.  Remember how you used to measure yourself.

Do your job right, because you said you would.  You said you'd do it forever that way.  Actions speak louder than words.  Ask yourself, "Who's in there?" If you don't like the answer, take the first step toward change.

The uniform doesn't give you power or credibility, your actions do.  Wearing tights and a cape doesn't mean you've earned the right to be called a super hero.  You are what you repeatedly do.  If you believe that excellence is your responsibility, and strive for it day in and day out, then that is where you will go.  If you belly-ache and talk change, but are unable or unwilling to make the change in yourself, then you will stand still. 
I want to do what I'm meant to do. When my career is over I want to be remembered for the things that cannot be measured.
The right to be proud and confident is one that is earned over a career of hard work, dedication, of attempts and failures.  Excellence isn't easily achieved.  In the same way, neither is confidence. Confidence is hard-won and fleeting.  We are perceived to be larger than life creations that defy natural laws and are the very image of all that is right.  The fact is, we're human.  We are full of faults, shortcomings, and insecurities.   To overcome these we must be tireless in the pursuit of our ideals.  

The importance of holding one another accountable cannot be understated. Accountability is a discipline.  We do it for the person next to us.  We do it for each other.  We do it on our own together.

I want to do what I'm meant to do.  I want to do it with passion.  I want to do what makes people feel.  When my career is over I want to be remembered for the things that cannot be measured.

I want to look back and say, "I did my job."

When everything else has faded away nobody will remember the metrics, they'll remember the person inside the uniform. If you're not living up to who you said you'd always be, you will just be at a costume party for 30 years and you'll be quickly forgotten.  If that's what you choose, you can walk away from your career with only your certificate of attendance.  

I'm not going out like that.


  1. Excellent article. Would be good to hand out to a class of new recruits to put value and work ethics forward.

  2. Mark, as always..... well written and couldn't agree more. It's what I strive for. Thanks for the reminder and insight

  3. Excellent article! Well written! Thank you for having the true passion of a firefighter and wanting to do your best. A man of good character and integrity.

  4. Wow, I am speechless. Awesome article.

  5. Printing it and posting it in my classroom now. Thanks for the article. Made me think about who I am at 27 years of a projected 30 year career.

  6. I'm a probie and never want to be accused of being a 't-shirt' firefighter, as I've heard it called. I really like your analogy of the superhero wannabe wearing tights and a cape. Excellent article!

  7. Awesome as always Mark.....Thanks