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FDIC 2013: The Value of Instructors

Thu, 25 Apr 2013|

Bobby Halton welcomes the crowd to the FDIC General Session.



Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Bobby Halton. [NOISE] Good morning and welcome to the second morning of the 86th annual Fire Department Instructors Conference. Please once again help me in welcoming, in thanking the Pipe Township color guard, the Indianapolis Pipes and Drums, and the voices of the IFD. [NOISE] It's an absolute pleasure to be with you here this morning, but before I begin. I'd like to take a moment of silence if you all would join me. Tom Carr lost his battle with Parkinson's last night. He was the chief of the Montgomery fire department and most recently, Charleston and passed away with his family and friends by his side last evening. Thank you. This morning I'd like to share a little bit about how important you are in the fire service. The mission of fire service is critical to the communities that we serve as instructors and the importance of having a well trained and well disciplined fire service can't be understated. In order to continue and complete our mission with growing demand and shrinking budgets, now as never before we need you. We need great instructors. You know, there are many things that we're gonna do in our lives that matter. But nothing matters as much as that which you're gonna do for others. The philosopher Albert Pike once said, What we have done for others. I'm sorry, let me correct that one. What we have done, Albert. Pretty cool quotes usually. What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. You have chose to lead a group of individuals known as the bravest. A name that was earned through countless sacrifices over thousands of years by men and woman. Who are willing to put everything on the line, because it's what they swore to do. Because they knew that there are some thing more important than their own personal safety. Thucydides one said "The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike. And notwithstanding go out and meet it. And so now you find yourselves training those rare men and women who have a natural fire within them that drove them to swear an oath to the constitution, their communities, and their families, neighbors, and friends. Who chose to put themselves repeatedly into one of the most dangerous places in nature, inside a fire. Now the primary goal of every fire service instructor is first ensuring that the troops are successful and survive the mission and then that the troops are more efficient and more effective at achieving the mission. And, so we gather here at FDIC to try to find better ways to serve them, to provide them with alternatives and advantages to hone their skills for their survival. For this purpose, and this purpose only, we gather here every year. We're gathered here this morning at FDIC, because we believe we have an opportunity to make a difference. To make things better. Today we are part of a meaningful and natural change. There's an unmistakable groundswell of interest in making changes and modifications. That will significantly improve how we do our work. Changed based on science and experience. Change that will be [UNKNOWN] in tradition and experimentation. Change that will be true to our values but will test our vision. Change that will always put the mission first, the troops second, and the instructors last. Change that is inevitable, natural, and we know that this change will be good. We understand that we could make mistakes, but if we are willing to commit. To becoming extraordinary instructors then we won't be defeated by minor setbacks. We'll be made stronger from them. For example, many people have suffered minor setbacks and major setbacks. Some have faced what appeared to be insurmountable odds but they persevered. They changed not only their situation, but in some cases, they changed the world. I absolutely love history. And I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on history, especially the history that occurred in my own life. We all remember December 1st, 1955. To be the day that Rosa Parks became the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. We all know that this act of courage started the civil rights movement. But the story is much more interesting than that... Most Americans, including me, always thought that Rosa Parks was the first courageous female civil rights advocate, but in reality, Rosa Parks was not the first. Eight months earlier, a 15 year old Claudette Colvin had refused to give up her seat and she had been arrested. Also, a few weeks before her, Mary Louise Smith. Was arrested for the same offense. And there were many others, including ten years earlier, a young army lieutenant named Jackie Robinson who refused to give up his seat in Fort Bliss, Texas, faced court marshal and was completely exonerated. Rosa Parks. Was working as a secretary to the President of the NAACP in Montgomery, and therefore she was simply the first person to be treated like this, that the NAACP thought would make a good candidate for taking the evil of segregation to the American public. However, the real story of courage and defiance in the face of racism... Does not begin with Rosa Parks. Nor is it about Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, or even the great Jackie Robinson. It's really the story of one Elizabeth Jennings. A hero who first demanded the end to segregation, and won that right for us all. You probably never heard of Elizabeth Jennings, but she was a black woman living in New York City. She's the daughter of this very successful businessman. And she was a teacher, an instructor. And she also played the organ in the First Colored Congregational Church on Second and First in Manhattan. Now on a Sunday morning in July, Elizabeth Jennings was attempting to get on a trolley, not for, specifically marked as for colored persons and was immediately ordered to leave the vehicle. Elizabeth Jennings knew only one thing. She was the church's organist and she needed to get to church on time. Here's what the New York Tribune said of her treatment that day on that trolley. "She got upon one of the company's cars on the Sabbath to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging that the car was full. When that was proven to be false he pretended that the other passengers were displeased with her presence, but when she insisted on her rights he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted. Now according to eye witnesses to the event. Elizabeth Jennings informed the conductor trying to dispatch her from the moving trolley. That she was a respectable person born and reared in New York and that he was a good for nothin' fellow for insulting decent people who were simply trying to get to church for Sunday services. The Tribune also covered what happened next. The conductor got her down on the platform, jammed on her bonnet, soiled her dress, and injured her person. A crowd gathered, but she effectively re, resisted. Finally, after the car gotten a little further and with the aid of a cop, they successfully succeeded in removing her from the car. Thankfully, for all Americans Elizabeth was not gonna be treated that way. She understood the importance of personal dignity. Elizabeth knew she had to be an instructor for all of us. So she went and found a 24-year old struggling attorney named Chester. Elizabeth asked Chester if he would take her case. She asked him if he would sue the Third Avenue Railway Company for their policy of segregated trolleys and her treatment at the hands of one of their conductors. Chester, with really nothing else going on, decided to take her case. The case was heard by a Brooklyn Circuit Court, a judge, named William Rockwell, and he issued the following ruling. It read in part, colored persons, if sober, well behaved and free of disease have the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the company nor by force or violence. Elizabeth was more than $500 in damages. A couple of hundred bucks for, for determining the court cost, and attorney fees. In total, she got $22. But the next day, the New York Avenue Third Railway Company Trollies were desegregated. And within five years, every trollies in the City of New York were integrated, but what my shock you was the year this story takes place. It is 1854. 101 years before America ever heard the name Rosa Parks and 10 years before the American Civil War. It was 101 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery city bus, yet today, few of us celebrate. That heroine of racial equality. That instructor, Elizabeth Jennings, were all ignorant of this American hero, but her story is so important to all of us. Elizabeth lived for another 39 years. She passed away in 1901, a teacher, a heroine. All but forgotten by American history. Oh, you might be wondering, whatever happened to that 24 year old struggling attorney who agreed to take the case? You see, Chester was none other than Chester A. Arthur, future President of the United States. And it was winning that Elizabeth Jennings case that made him a household name in New York. So what's this interesting piece of lost American history have to do with our roles as fire service instructors? Were's he goin' with this one? What does it have to do with affecting behavior and affecting real change? In a word, everything. [BLANK_AUDIO] Elizabeth Jennings was a teacher. She wasn't a politician. She wasn't a chief. She wasn't a union boss. She was an instructor. She was not looking for fame. She was not looking for power. She was not looking for money. She was hoping to make things better. She was hoping to change our behaviors. She was hoping to instruct, and one would do well to remember when this happened to Elizabeth, when she made her courageous stand, our economy was in a tailspin. Wealthy and powerful men ran those railroads and trolleys, and they would just as soon step on a cockroach as get rid of a problem person. It took real character and personal courage. To stand up to those men, it took someone who knew that principles matter. It's someone who understood that there are some things in life that are worth fighting for, and things that are more important than our own personal safety. It took someone who understood the responsibility that you have undertaken to be an instructor, to be a teacher. Elizabeth Jennings was a teacher, whose model we can all follow. We see now what little victories can lead to. We see that from small things. Big things, one day may come. A far more famous instructor, I'd like to mention this morning, was the Union Colonel, Joshua Chamberlain, whose leadership of the 20th Main Regiment, is perhaps the most famous counterattack of the Civil War, and it also highlights the value of instructional leadership. The 34-year-old chamberlain was a professor. A professor. Like the man we're gonna honor today. A professor of modern languages at Bowdoin College. He was given to, command of the 20th main. And when he arrived on Little Round Top, his commanding officer, Colonel Vincent, chose a line of defense that started in the west and went up the slope of the hill. Chamberlain took up his position last, never a good idea, and his line had to curve back around the East, forming the left flank of the Union army. The last thing that Colonel Vincent told him was the words that no commander ever wants to hear. He said, this is the left of the Union line. You are to hold this ground at all costs. Now the confederate Colonel Hood's division 15th and 47th Alabama, all battle hardened veterans, began to smash into the 20th main. The battle raged, and the 20th main center starts to crack at the onslaught from the Alabama regiments. When their ammunition had almost run out, Chamberlain. Orders the men to fix bayonets and charge into the two Alabama regiments. This unexpected charge coupled with some fortunate fire power startled those two Alabama regiments and began a route that forever changed the course of history. The Confederate forces were defeated that day and the Union line held. It's important to remember that leaders actions have consequences that instructors actions have consequences much like Elizabeth Jennings small act with monumental change so did Joshua Chamberlains, Chamberlain's opponent Kernal William Oates the following day and that people then said. With great personal honor he said, Great events, sometimes turn on comparatively small affairs. We're instructing at a time a tremendous change and dynamic innovation. We must be aware that the smallest actions can have incredible results. We also must expect the unexpected and stop believing in those who would dare to doubt us. We must recognize that the greatest tradition in the American fire service has been its very ability to change, to adapt, to modify, to adjust its tactics to meet the problems of the day. The fire service history is replete with innovation, blending tradition and values to defeat obstacles and challenges. We saw it in the 1890s when [UNKNOWN] were faced with the first high rises. We saw it many years later in the 40s and 50s. When engineering's replaced mass with geometry in both residential and commercial structures. And we're dealing with it now since the '50s. As technology is giving us more and more polymer-based products, and has changed the thermal dynamic of the standard structure fire. We all recognize that change and modification is continually occurring in our fire ground tasks and tactics. And we are part of that natural change. But before we attempt to change anything, anyone. Any policy or procedure. We must first make sure that we are correct in our assumptions. We must take great pains to respect the truth of our current tactics. Recognizing the value of those hard learned lessons. In his essay on liberty, John Stewart Mill wrote the following. The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the next generation; those who dissent from the opinion and far more those who still hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging truth for error. If wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit. The clearer the perception and the livelier the impression of truth collision with error. Now John Stuart Mill was a smart guy. He always held that a long term belief must have some truth in it. And that the folks that hold these beliefs should not be seen negatively, but just as people who continue to see the truth in that opinion. He recognized that new information or data. Might render those older opinions limited, but none the less limited as though they may be. They must still be acknowledged. Never isolated, never ridiculed and never diminished. You know, we can pick up bad habits from bad people. Either consciously or unconsciously. And many political types, and yeah, I'm equating bad with political, believe that the ends justify the means. They do not. Firefighters, oath keepers, have always held that the means should have the same value. And honor as the ends always. Anything less is just excusing evil. Today we are learning more and more about the dynamics of firefighting and the effectiveness of tactics at a faster pace than ever before, in no small part thanks to the interweb. And this learning is good. But the learning that went on for generations before us is also good. Many of those lessons were learned at a dear, dear price. We're finding many new truths, and we're questioning some old ones, and this is a good thing. What is not a good thing is the imitation of the political class. Fire fighters should never imitate politicians rather we should continue as we have for 2000 years to take the high road, we should always find ways to understand the tactics as they were understood in the context from the day and build. On those hard learned lessons. We should embrace those who still see those truths, limited though as we may feel they are, because they still need to be acknowledged and recognized in no small part for the effort it took to learn them. And the courage it took to embrace them when they were new ideas. On the other hand, instructors must also have the courage, as Elizabeth Jennings did, to oppose behaviours that do not reflect our values. Recklessness, bullying, and thoughtlessness. We must do everything we can to protect our firefighters from toxic smoke, lightweight construction, dynamic fire behavior, and uncontrolled ventilation. For it is about affecting behavior, and to affect a behavior we must be sure that we respect our values, our principles, our heritage, and more than anything else, one another. It's important that we understand first and foremost why we are instructors. We are here to make things better and to hopefully improve the situation and sometimes improving the situation requires us to change our opinions. As Chamberlain changed his tactics dramatically on Little Round Top. And so the journey with everyone of us in this room begins with that inward reflection. That self assessment, that true appraisal of our own integrity, honesty, loyalty, devotion to duty, selflessness, personal courage, and character. Elizabeth Jennings did that work. She knew who she was. She lived a life of dignity and grace and she demanded that right for us all. Many of you have done that work. I know that you are going to find innovate and creative solutions because you because you are here at FDIC. Are extraordinary instructors. You honor our traditions, you respect the sacrifice of those who've gone before you. You understand that we have to always put the mission first, the troops second, and ourselves last. You are tomorrow's extraordinary instructors, like Elizabeth Jennings, Joshua Chamberlain, Tom Brennan, Allen Brunaseene, John O'Hagan, Rick Laskee, Steve Curber, Mike Dugan, John Norman, Dan Magakowski, Anthony Castros, Mike, Mike Walker, Johnny Sulka, and the great Glenn Corbet. Every instructor here at FDIC, each and every one, is a leader. You are legends in the fire service. And, so my fellow instructors, now is the time to be bold, now is the time to be strong, now is the time to be creative, to teach by intention, and lead by example. Now is the time to trust your instincts. Find strong partners like [UNKNOWN] Let nothing and no one stand in your way. Stand up to bullies. Be courageous in your beliefs. Be true to your fire service values. Learn as many new lessons you can. Always respect the past and honor our fallen. And lead by example. And go and teach and instruct. And set a model that tomorrow people will say you followed in the footsteps of Glen Corbin, you made a difference for us all with some small act. Thank you and God bless America. [SOUND]

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