Author’s Note: The organization, Cutting Edge County Fire and EMS, is a fictional organization. However, the words you’re about to read are drawn from an actual “Open Letter” that I sent to my own department. All names of individuals have been replaced with the intent to maintain their anonymity.
Dear Men and Women of CECFEMS,
Family. It’s a word that we use very frequently in association with our organization and our profession. Almost a year ago to this day I was sitting in a tent, in freezing weather, among friends and colleagues from this organization and I’ll never forget the words of Mr. Vanhouse as he spoke into the camera from inside the church. He said, “Thank you for making us a part of your family.”
Nor will I forget this past October at Emmitsburg on the occasion of the Fallen Firefighters Ceremony when, following the ceremony where her son was among the honored, Mrs. Vanhouse hugged me, then looked into my eyes and said, “I understand even more now why Fritz was so drawn to this family.”
However, there have been several events in the recent past that have caused me to question just how much of a family we really are. When CECFEMS Recruit School #22 graduated this past summer, more than half the seats in the auditorium were empty. Sure, joyous family members of the graduates were there along with most of the on-duty Training Division staff. Missing, however, were members from the shifts and stations where those people, our newest members, would be reporting in a few days to join “the family.”
Also missing were other members of our organization who could help welcome our newest members and really give them a sense that they truly were joining a very special and noble profession. Now how many “healthy” families have an addition to the family without a celebration? Think about it. Few things bring out the visits, phone calls, and cards like a new child joining the family.
Afterwards, the member of Recruit School #22 hosted a graduation party—that they arranged and paid for like all previous schools—and very few of our family members attended (Despite formal invitations being sent to every fire station and work unit in CECFEMS). We didn’t turn out in even mediocre numbers when the food and beverages were free. At the time, both of these events saddened me and I wrote down some thoughts that were going to become this letter at the time.
But like everyone, I got busy and I forgot.
Then this past October, CECFEMS Station 14 chartered a bus to make the trip to Emmitsburg so that members of Fritz Vanhouse’s “other” family could be there to support his Mom, Dad, and sisters. Over half of the bus was empty.
Again, I was saddened, but I got busy and forgot.
Until today, or rather last night. You see it’s 1:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep because of these thoughts rolling through my head. Last night the Board of Supervisors honored Battalion Chief Dean Pressman for 31 years of service. And few people from our family came. Oh, Chiefs Elan, Metzger, and Shuler were there along with a handful of us who served with Chief Pressman over the years.
But nowhere near the number of people who should have been there to show our public support for a dedicated and faithful member of the family. One of the members of CECFR Recruit School #1—one of our organization’s “Founding Fathers.” Over the years I’m sure that Chief Pressman made his fair share of friends and enemies, but isn’t that true of all families? (I have three younger brothers and as kids were would fight like devils and spew venomous words like, “I hate you” or “I’ll kill you” during those fights. After the fight was over all was forgotten. But whoa the “non-family” person who attacked an Avsec brother).
Chief Pressman’s retirement is just the beginning of the “changing of the guard” at CECFEMS as we start experiencing large numbers of retirements from the first generation of firefighters and officers in our department. I think as an organization we need to start “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk” about being a family.
Strong families support and nurture their members in both good times and bad. I believe that at our worst time, following the LODD of Firefighter Fritz Vanhouse, we were at our best in supporting the Vanhouse family and our own people who were on that fateful call. I think we need to work on how we do during good times as well.
Like most things worthwhile, it going to take individual effort. I urge each of you to make that commitment in 2015.
Vow to attend CECFEMS Recruit School #23’s graduation and graduations after that. Vow to attend the next ceremony honoring the retirement of one of our tribe’s “elders.” Vow to attend the annual Awards Ceremony where we honor the good deeds of our people. Vow to be part of what will be our annual pilgrimage to the National Fire Academy each October to let one of the family know that we haven’t forgotten him and his sacrifice.
If each of us makes that kind of commitment, we will become one of the finest fire service families in all the land. And whoa the person who would ever think to “put the mouthpiece” on someone from our family—the Cutting Edge County Fire Rescue Family!
Robert P. Avsec
“A” Shift, 2nd Battalion