Remember Your Influences

By Richard Marinucci

Recently I attended part of the 25th Executive Fire Officer Symposium at the National Fire Academy. One of the presentations was made by Ms. Erin Gruwell, a public school teacher. She began her teaching career in an inner city school. Her successes were chronicled in a movie starring Hillary Swank called the Freedom Writers. Although the entire presentation was quite good, I remember one particular point that she made. To paraphrase, she said that teacher has an impact on her students long after the class if over. And, often there is no end to the influence with some individuals.

Reflecting on that, I can fondly recall some very outstanding teachers while others I don’t remember a bit. As I look back on my fire service career I think that the same can be said of the many training interactions I have had. There are some that profoundly influenced me and others that are barely memorable. There were some that one might expect to be high on my list who aren’t and others who may have seemed insignificant at the time but whose true value emerged later in my career.

Do not discount what may appear to be a minor or even negative experience. Sometimes we are quick to judge the immediate impact and find that later our views and perspectives have changed. As such, some instructors who may not have appeared to be adding much to my development at first ultimately did have influence in programming my “hard drive.” Others who appeared entertaining and maybe made sense at that point in my career later did not seem to pass the test of time. Maybe it is sort of like our dads—hey don’t seem to make much sense when we are teenagers but get smarter as we get older and gain life experiences.

There are a couple of points to make. First, don’t automatically discount information that you get just because you don’t agree. Allow issues to be discussed and have an open mind. Too often we are stuck in our ways and close ourselves to other’s perspectives just because they don’t agree with ours. We may be short changing ourselves by not listening to points of view that differ from ours. Is some ways we create a cocoon that insulates us from things that we don’t agree with. We not only ignore what is being said but even turn a deaf ear and miss other valuable information.

There are all types of teachers and instructors. There are many styles and methods. I don’t know if it is because firefighters are generally impatient or if it is human nature but first impressions may determine whether or not we allow people to present their points of view and really allow civil discourse. Perhaps we need to open our minds more so that our experiences can be more varied and we better expand our horizons.

The second point I would like to make is that we should make more of an effort to thank those that have had a positive influence on our lives and careers. Unfortunately, both personally and professionally, I don’t believe I have sufficiently thanked the many folks who helped shape who I am. I am too late with many as they have passed on. In some cases I have only discovered their influence after their death as I have reflected on their lives. I don’t know how much difference it would have made in their lives to have heard some compliments but I do wish I would have said something. Of course in some cases, I did not realize their influence at the time of our interaction, only after I gained more life experiences to validate their lessons.

I try to practice what I preach, but am not always successful. I don’t think this should diminish from the message. But I am trying. At the conclusion of my involvement with the 25th Executive Fire Officer Symposium I thanked Chuck Burkell and Burt Clark for their longtime service to the fire service. Chuck has announced his retirement and I am not sure if Burt has a firm date. Regardless, they have earned the respect of many and should know it. They have both made such a difference in so many fire service professionals. I know it has not been easy for them working in the bureaucracy of our government to do everything they wanted but they persevered and maintained their passion. The lessons I learned from them both were not only in the classroom but observing their professional behavior. My best to both of them.

I encourage you to stop and reflect from time to time about those that have influenced you and let them know. It is good for both of you.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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