FDIC International 2018 was spectacular and was my 19th FDIC. It is the best fire service-related week of the year for me, reconnecting with all my brother and sister firefighters and training with the best in the world. For the past 19 years, I have paid for most of my expenses out of my own pocket. I am not complaining; it is money well spent. However, this year was different.
I am a volunteer firefighter and recently retired from my regular job. As a retirement gift, my two days of H.O.T. training were paid for by Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief Steve Marsar and Captain Peter Kearney. Many of you might know Steve. He is an editorial advisor and contributing author for FireRescue, an FDIC International instructor, and an instructor at the Nassau County (NY) Fire Academy. I have had the pleasure of knowing Steve for eight years, and I am honored to call him my friend.
Peter Kearney is a captain in Midtown Manhattan and an instructor at the FDNY Fire Academy, known as “The Rock.” I have had the pleasure of knowing Peter and his family since he walked through the doors looking to join my local volunteer fire department more than 30 years ago. I am grateful for the brotherhood and the friendship we share at the firehouse and through FDIC. A big thank you to Peter and Steve.
Their gift was an innovation other departments should consider. Instead of another plaque, why not reward faithful brothers and sisters for their services and good deeds with a unique gift of an FDIC experience? Or, maybe even reward several of your top responders with a combined trip to minimize expenses and maximize benefits to your department! What greater honor could you bestow than to send your best members to train at the world’s best fire conference? The knowledge, innovations, and tactical information they bring back will continue to enhance your department for years to come! See you all next April!
Firefighter/Fire Instructor II
Westwood (NJ) Fire Department
“I won the lottery!”
Author’s note: I wrote the following after my first day of work at a full-time advanced life support fire department.
I won the lottery! So, what’s next? I don’t mean the lottery for which you stand in line to buy tickets for the work pool you started when the jackpot reached $11 gazillion. I’m not that lucky.
Today was my first day at a new job. I somehow managed to land a full-time firefighter/paramedic job only nine months out of the fire academy. And, I’ve only been a medic for about a year and a half. To top that off, I’m old and out of shape. There is no reason I should have the opportunity to fill this role.
The retired assistant chief of the department told us recruits that we had won the lottery today in our orientation academy. He was talking to all of us, not just the young, fit guys whose potential for longevity far exceeds mine.
Our current assistant chief (AC) also addressed us and told us why we were selected. He explained how fortunate we were to take on the mantle of firefighter. Both men spoke with such passion for the job. The AC even spoke of vocation, a word I haven’t heard much outside of my private school upbringing, but it is absolutely appropriate.
This job is a calling. It’s why I’m here. It’s the only reason that I made it to where I am. It’s what I was made for. It’s taken a long time to get here, but knowing that I’m where I belong is a very comforting thing. I’m nervous about a lot of things within the job, mostly because I tend to be very critical of myself; but those things don’t matter because from my point of view, I wouldn’t have made it to this point if I wasn’t able to do what needs to be done.
It really was quite an emotional morning for me. It could be that the other stressors I’ve been dealing with in addition to a new job had me on the emotional edge. It could be a lack of coffee. Or, maybe I just won the lottery.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
“Tattoos on the Heart”: the vision and passion of the FDIC
After Chicago (IL) Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan DeGryse’s keynote and my invocation, I met so many interesting, inspiring folks at FDIC. Throughout the week, I heard countless stories, and many of those stories started with the words: “What I’m about to tell you, I’ve never told anyone else before.”
This past Saturday, I presided over a funeral and, yet again, I heard those words from a member of the MABAS Division of Illinois. He shared his retirement plans for the next year and expressed gratitude for the mission of FDIC and its support of substance abuse and mental health issues for firefighters and their families.
Within just the past few weeks, I have heard more than a dozen times families expressing gratitude for supporting first responders with substance abuse and mental health disorders. The statement shared forces you to stop and listen, as you know honesty and vulnerability are about to follow. In my ministry and service as a priest for more than 33 years and now in my fifth year with the Rosecrance Florian program, I realize I have heard those words more times than I can remember. Each time as I listen to the revelation that follows, I remember, once again, what a sacred honor and privilege it is to do such work with first responders and men and women in the uniformed services.
One doesn’t have to be a priest to be trusted with a story that has never been shared. People merely need places where they can feel deeply cared for, cared about, and respected, no matter what. These are the kinds of trusting environments that have been and continue to be birthed within FDIC every year. FDIC helps to create spaces for trusting relationships to grow and fosters the ability for persons to share their truths, sometimes for the first time. Such caring relationships are one of the greatest gifts any of us can both offer and receive.
My deepest gratitude for the vision and mission of FDIC and Bobby Halton and his staff, who have mentored and walked with me and so many others, and now offer new life and creative passion for all members of the family of service.
Peace and every good,
Fr. Jim Swarthout
Director of Clergy and Alumni Relations
Rosecrance Health Network