Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Leadership

Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy Commencement Address

Good Evening, It is my honor to be your keynote speaker for tonight’s Fire Academy graduation ceremony. Never once did I expect my fire service career to take me from being a young and impressionable fire I student at this same academy twenty three years ago to being asked to speak at your graduation services. It has been a long and winding road for me to get to this point in my career and there are many reasons how and why I have been able to achieve the goals I set many years ago.

However, tonight is not about my story. It is about the large step everyone in this room is going to take after you receive your graduation certificates. It may very well be the largest and most influential step in your life. As you are handed that piece of paper you will be entering the greatest and most hazardous occupation in this country. Volunteer/Career, male/female, it will not matter, you will all be referred to as BROTHERS and you will be expected to act and carry yourself as your BROTHERS keeper. In order to accomplish this enormous task there are several personality traits and attitudes that you must develop and practice throughout your career. Here is where I am going to stray from the standard graduation speech so often given at ceremonies like this. I am not going to tell you how to operate safely, ventilate a structure, attack a fire, or wear your gear. You have already been taught these basic principles.

However, what I am going to do, is introduce, explain, and ask you to adopt several individual and unique characteristics you will need to acquire in order to become a true member of the BROTHERHOOD of which I speak. Whether it be crawling down a dark, hot, and smoky hallway at three in the morning with your partner or consoling a fellow firefighter on the loss of a loved one, you will need to practice and remain faithful to these qualities when you leave this building tonight. I can guarantee that it will not be as easy as you think to fulfill these standards. Some of you will have a harder time than others and many will be offered numerous reasons to stray from these ideals by firefighters who will never live up to your standards. Remembering what I have to say here tonight and becoming a devoted practitioner and staunch supporter of the following core values should lead you to a long, productive, and self fulfilling career.

The first standard you should set for yourself is the level of professionalism to which you will aspire. The word “professional” is no stranger to the fire service and strides across both the volunteer and career ranks. Being a true professional comes from within the individual person. It is not the job of the fire academy staff to teach you how to be professional. What they will do is give you the basic knowledge you will need to become a professional. In my fire service experience I have been lucky to work with and be groomed by several excellent firefighting professionals (some of whom are in this room tonight). Their tutoring and passage of information has allowed me to develop several simple, yet basic ideals that have greatly assisted me in reaching my current level of professionalism. These values are; always treat all people the way in which you would like to be treated, always conduct yourself in a calm intelligent manner, always display a composed demeanor during emergency situations, and always perform to your highest level of competence. Adhering to these, and other common sense traits that you will learn during your fire service career and within your lifetime will give you the foundation from which you can build a high level of individual professionalism and respect from your peers.

Secondly, you must become and remain passionate about your fire service career. The dictionary definition of passion defines the word as, “having great enthusiasm”, “powerful feelings”, desire and lust. All of these words can describe the way you should feel about, and how you should embrace your newfound obsession for the fire service. This will not always be an easy task. In your journeys you will come across many of your “so called” brothers who will make every attempt to take away this feeling. Do not let them infiltrate your world and corrupt the road you will travel. Stay true to your passion, and you will reap many rewards throughout your career.

A third necessary trait is dedication. Once you have developed the passion necessary to become an important part of your fire department, you need to dedicate yourself to a particular course of action. Early in my volunteer career I dedicated myself to becoming a well-trained and highly skilled firefighter who other members could rely on in the heat of the battle. I attended every training opportunity available and became a true student of the fire service. At the time I had no ambition of becoming a career firefighter. However, shortly after gaining a career position and realizing that I had found my true passion, I dedicated myself to a course of action that would lead me to where I am today. Early in my career in Englewood, at every opportunity they got, senior firefighters on the job would try to sway me from the path I had chosen. Whether it was regarding me being a volunteer firefighter, my reading of fire service magazines, or the practical hands on training I conducted for myself, daily teasing and ridicule was the norm. “Hey son, don’t waste your time reading that crap” was a popular quote from other members of the department. My answer to them was always, “Tease me now, but I’m telling you some day I am going to be Chief of this Department”. And of course they would laugh. Well guess what. I did not let them disrupt the goals I had made for myself. I always stayed dedicated to them and today I am the one that has the last laugh.

Be consistent; always keep dedicated to the job, your fellow firefighters, and the goals you set for yourself. This attitude will allow you to achieve objectives you never felt you could accomplish and create great opportunities that will follow you throughout your life.

The last character trait I would like to discuss is pride. Having respect for your own dignity and worth, achievements that you have garnered, or feeling satisfied about a quick knockdown at a house fire, are all definitions of this attribute. It is important that you develop and maintain pride in yourself, your company, your department, and the manner in which you carry yourself. You and you alone will set the tone for your future. Having pride in your work and your daily activities will improve your attitude and work ethic in the firehouse and in your personal life. I remember how proud I was when I graduated from this academy. Nobody could take away the happiness I felt. I was ready, willing, and able to take on any challenge that would come my way. You should also feel this way tonight. Be proud of your accomplishments to this point and set a path for the rest of your career. Be professional in your job, passionate about your career, dedicated to learning, and prideful in your accomplishments. Remember, whatever goals you seek to achieve are there for the taking. Start reaching for them when you leave this ceremony tonight.

Before I finish, I would like to add some very meaningful words that you will probably hear for the first time tonight. I did not invent them, but I do stand by them. They were given to me by firefighters who, on a daily basis, practice the same principles I speak of tonight. True professionals to the job and the brotherhood. These few short letters and words should give you a better perspective of the family that I speak of and should always remain close to your heart, especially after you and your fellow firefighters have just moved down that hot, smoky hallway to hell and back. After the job, stop for a second and turn to look in the face of your exhausted and soot stained brothers. Acknowledge their existence, be grateful for their skills and comraderie, and always remember; “EGH” EVERYBODY GOES HOME, and “RFB” REMEMBER OUR FALLEN BROTHERS.

Thank You and Goodnight

Chief Robert Moran, Englewood (NJ) Fire Department