In today’s General Session, Chief Bobby Halton focused on the roles of instructors/leaders in the fire service, the influences of instructors on their firefighter students, and the interrelationship among firefighters, educators, and the community:
• “Becoming a firefighter means accepting the duty of protecting the people, their value system, and their material well-being.”
• “If firefighters are to expect the community to support and supply them and to continue to join their ranks, then all of us must endeavor endlessly to earn our communities’ respect for our competence and fidelity.”
• “Conversely, if firefighters are to undertake the obligation of becoming highly skilled in the complex and dangerous enterprise of firefighting, they must be able to trust that we the instructors, the leaders, will provide them with adequate instruction and ennobling examples.”
Halton identified some of the major attributes of a successful educator: self-awareness, innovation, passion—and “the most critical requirement,” having a heroic dream and a bold vision; embracing that dream and sharing that vision; and devoting all his/her energy, love, and resources to seeing that dream/vision to fulfillment.” That vision/dream is the dawning of a day when firefighters will not have to weigh their commitment to our sacred mission, when through training and education, they will never again find themselves in a situation where they will have to risk the time they have left for another.
To demonstrate why instructors should be a level higher than their students in honor and commitment, Halton related the real-life experience of a valiant, dedicated firefighter who made several attempts to rescue a civilian trapped in a residential fire building despite the need for the firefighter to reenter the burning structure and its punishing environment four times. The horrific conditions forced him out on the earlier attempts.
This firefighter, Vincent Musacchio, remind us what the courage, selflessness, and commitment of a firefighter look like in action, said Halton.
Those who train firefighters and accept the responsibility for educating them must impose on themselves demands for ethical and moral conduct that are even more stringent than those of the students. There must be no equivocating, no compromise, no safe quarter for the violators, and no mercy for the unrepentant, Halton stressed. “For the level of accountability that Vincent is willing to accept, the instructor must be willing to accept one higher.”
Do not think that you are not good enough or strong enough to be an instructor/leader, Halton cautioned the audience. “By your presence here today, you have shown you are self-aware, you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, you are ready for challenges and opportunities, you are creative and innovative. By your presence here today, you have demonstrated you are ready to share bold dreams and to dare to dream of a day when no firefighter will have to weigh his/her commitment to offer his/her last full measure.” That day will come, maybe not in our lifetime, but someday; and you will be remembered, maybe not by name, as an instructor who stood tall and made a difference.