These days, it seems, we’re losing so many of our best people.

My thoughts are with Don Manno, who passed away on February 16. A great human being, a credit to this fire service, “an instructor’s instructor,” a bright light who lit the way for so many firefighters.

I can still see him pacing the stage at FDIC, getting torqued up about a critical message on safety and instruction in the fire service, something we all needed to hear and stuff into our hearts and heads and take back home with us. And his engine would get so revved up, he’d stop himself just before he’d overheat and just look at the audience with a big smile on his face, and he’d laugh, and we’d all laugh with him. It was like his exclamation point at the end of a sentence, a sentence we’d underline in our heads because it was too important not to remember. He surely knew how to get his message across-the sweet but passionate chubby little man who told his audience, “Yes, I know I look like Danny DeVito, but what can I do about it?”-and it was a message that went straight to the heart of what’s important in this business.

His final address at FDIC began with a fiery litany about stupid thinking that compromises firefighter safety. But then he turned it back to us. “Who’s got to carry the message?” he asked. “The instructors! The critical role [in making the change] in the fire service is the instructor.”

“As an instructor, you’re different than everybody else. The thing about instructors is you see something different: You believe you can change people with training and education. You believe you can invest in other people to understand that an investment in education that they make in themselves is the best investment they can make, you get that?”

Don knew this because he was an instructor’s instructor, because he made other people and their actions and their safety his business.

“That’s really what instructors believe; that’s really what links instructors together. It is truly missionary work!”

Don knew this because he was a missionary for 40 years.

“Instructors understand that other people are caught in the law of immediacy and they can’t see something into the future like instructors can. They don’t see the subtle changes, but instructors do. Instructors know they’re gonna get frustrated because you’re not gonna make big changes overnight and instructors know you’re not gonna make change quickly, but instructors know that education really, truly is a lifetime commitment.”

Don knew this because he had made a lifetime commitment to education, as a firefighter and training officer; as a program chair with the National Fire Academy; as the Florida and Kentucky state training director; as the chief training officer of the Overland Park (KS) Fire Department; and as a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, national committees, the FDIC educational advisory board, and beyond.

Don Manno had his eye set on what will make this fire service better, stronger, safer. And he never faltered. He never stopped advocating. To the end, he held fast to the belief that training and experience are the great fireground equalizers. And he held firm to the belief that “everyone who has a rank and a position of responsibility is an instructor and they need to teach their people, set the example, and look out for the welfare of their students.”

Don Manno was living proof that not every hero leaves this world in a blaze of glory and that rescues do happen before the rig even leaves the fire station. Draw strength from that as you carry on your all-important missionary work.

Thanks, Don. Go with God, friend.


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