Are You Waiting for an Oscar?

By Ron Kanterman

A while back I was out of town speaking at a fire chief’s conference and ran into my old friend, Rick Lasky. I was fortunate enough to not have been on the speaking podium at the same time, so I sat in on one of his famous “Pride and Ownership” lectures. I had read all of it and have heard most of it, but sitting there listening to it again somehow inspired me. Those who know me know of my passion and love for the fire service and that they drive me to do the things I do.

As I departed at the end of the weekend, I found myself inspired and ready for more challenges. (Thanks, Rick, you’ve done it again, but if I get more motivated than I am now, I have a feeling I’ll be asking my doctor for a prescription to slow it all down!) I had seven hours to think during my drive about what I could do or write about in relation to my weekend. The officers who sat for my leadership class were inspiring enough: Attentive, dedicated fire officers taking time out of their busy lives, away from their families, to improve the process. I can’t meet enough people like that. Then Lasky finished it off.
As it happened, nothing hit me until Oscar night (March 7). My wife, in her inimitable style, set up for the Oscar party, assisted by my daughter, home for spring break. We were off to the races. We watched the red carpet “pregame show” from 7:00 to 8:30 and then the Oscars until midnight. We saw some of the most magnificent and hideous clothing and hair styles the world had to offer–$10,000 gowns, $3,000 tuxedos, $2,000 shoes, $1,000 handbags and tons of jewelry. All the glam, glitz, and bling any fan could want. The girls give the full commentary on the hair styles, the dresses, and the makeup. Who needed Ryan Seacrest? I had my own reporters right there in the family room. We laughed. We cringed. But, most of all, it was a pretty fun family night.
I got in to the firehouse at 0645 hours on Monday. The tones went out for chest pains at 0650 hours. The team responded in its $40 job shirts, $80 flame-retardant pants, and $125 shoes. No glam, no glitz, no bling. Get dressed and get out. As the day went on, more calls and more alarms. Then, the crews put on their real expensive stuff, turnout gear. They donned their $1,800 ensembles and were out the door. No glam, no glitz, no bling, no Oscar. It happens like this every day all over the country. We go, and we do–for nothing other than a meager paycheck or for the satisfaction of volunteering to help a neighbor. And when we do something “Oscar worthy,” we’re modest and would rather not be in the spotlight. “I was just doing my job. It’s what I was trained for.” There are as many off-duty rescues as there are on duty every year. Volunteer and career firefighters all over the country pull people out of burning or wrecked cars or from their burning homes all the time—and not because they want to be celebrities or nominated for an Oscar.  
I had the honor once again this year to assist in the selection process for the winner of the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award. The people written up on the nomination forms did not set out for recognition the day they embarked on making a difference in someone’s life. They did what they promised to do. They “stepped in between people and their problem and made their problem go away,” as Chief (Ret.) Alan Brunacini says. It’s just what we do.
I guess my whole point for writing this short piece is to say how darn proud I am to be affiliated with a million of the finest people on earth (except, of course, for the one or two knuckleheads in each department, and you know who you are.) If in fact you’re looking for the Oscar, you’re in the wrong business. I know and you know that there are folks who are trying to cover the interior of their 4,000-square-foot home with plaques and certificates. If in fact these folks are productive members of the service, then so be it. If not, tell them to get over themselves and move on to something else. “Get the hell out of my firehouse,” per Rick Lasky. It sounds pretty simple to me. If you’re in it for the glory, the glitz, and the glam, you’re here for all the wrong reasons. Be modest, and stay modest. We’re already cool, sexy, big, and bad by the nature of what we swore to do. Modesty will win over more people than you think, and it will make you bigger, badder, and sexier than you already are. Be humble, and stay humble.
If you’re waiting for your Oscar nomination from me, you’ve got some wait. Better head for the Hollywood hills in your $2,000 tux or $10,000 gown or maybe try to fool them with a cheap rental. Go in what you wish to wear, but just go.            

Ron Kanterman is a 35-year veteran of the fire service. He holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees and is a career fire chief in southeast Connecticut. He is an advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and serves as chief of operations for the annual Memorial Weekend ceremonies each year in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He lectures on a variety of topics around the country.

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