I just returned home Saturday from our profession's largest conference. It was my first time attending. To say that it was a highlight of my career would be an understatement. It was the best week of my professional life and during it I learned more than I ever imagined, mostly about my shortcomings as a fireman.
It's funny how the 21st century has made us at once instantly connected yet socially backwards. This week was an opportunity for me to finally meet in person several people whom I have know for years, through e-mail, text messaging, phone calls, and the ubiquitous Facebook. It's funny how you can shake the hand of another for the first time, yet you've got intimate knowledge of one another. I can't seem to wrap my head around it, however it was refreshing to congregate with others for one week where the issues of our department, home life, personal agendas, and many other distractions were put aside for a greater purpose: TRAINING!!
So, from here I'm assuming you think I'll have a clever little synopsis of the events of the week with a neat little summary at the bottom. No way I can do that. To put into words the surreal experience I had would be fleeting at best. All I can do is toss out a few photos, hit the highlights, and that will serve as my take on the week.
I traveled with a friend. At the onset of the week, I had said that it would either make or break our friendship. Without a doubt, we have a stronger bond and are now even that much more focused on our tasks to improve our department.
I took an awesome Hands On course, and I can't say enough about how cool the instructors were. All of us have encountered the "Instructor Extraordinaire" who has great knowledge but little tact and patience.
N I C E P E O P L E
To say that I'll utilize some of these things I've learned would by quite an understatement. Thankfully we were allowed to take photos of all the props and almost forcibly told to "Go home and PASS IT ON!!" I'm already compiling a list of materials needed to replicate many of these props, and I can't thank the instructors enough.
Along with the HOT training, this conference is renowned for it's keynote speakers and it's classroom sessions. During the keynote, I had an epiphany: Yes, I get frustrated. Yes, I piss and moan. Yes, I want improvement. Until I start to improve me, how the heck can I change 1200 others? It won't happen, I've gotta fix me first.
The classroom sessions were outstanding, everything from garden apartment fires, to large area search techniques, to RIT operations, to firefighter free speech. My favorite was one called, "Training Warriors to Succeed Under Fire." from Maj. Jason Brezler USMC and FDNY Squad 252. Since I took the luxury of dropping his name, I'll pay him this compliment: Had there been a bus to Parris Island outside the doors of the classroom, I would have ridden on the roof! I pretty sure my wife would not have liked that much though, nor my sons!
I found out what I thought to be true. There is a group of firefighters and writers with a singular goal: To improve other firefighters tactically, mentally, physically, and philosophically. After spending the week with them, I know it is a tangible thing, not some half baked pipe dream. I've never been more proud to be involved with something I believe in more than this endeavor.
The FSW community is not an exclusive club that you have to fit a certain mold to enter. There is only one criteria- steadfast desire to improve yourself and others. That and the fact that you have to be a world class smartass and know the definition of jitbag. I have found that a few of those guys, previously 21st century friends, to be some of my best friends in the world. We talked at length, over several meals, beers, walks, and between classes. We walked the streets of the city at night from place to place. We visited the 9/11 memorial. We took random photos of doors in alleyways (No, even at a conference we cannot turn "It" off) we ran a race, and we climbed stairs together. All along the way, we were out late, up early, and always together. I can't thank them enough for what they started and what we will perpetuate.
I participated in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.
Warriors Leading the Way
Unfortunately, with 30,000 firefighters in town, we only had 200 climbers. Despite the fact that only 200 registered, not a single one of the 343 was left lying on the table.
There were several firefighters who were carrying the names of multiple fallen members of the FDNY. Once again, I had the honor of climbing for Gregory Stajk of L-13 as well as Dennis McHugh from L-13.
Those that have read the post know my regrets from my stair climb here at home. Redemption tastes lovely. But the climb wasn't about me. It was about honor. It was about respect. It was about raising money for a worthy cause. If you were there and did not participate, you missed out.
How do I wrap this up? I have no clue... It will probably take me weeks to digest and process all of the knowledge that was imparted upon me. Back to the top, when I said the most that I learned was about me. That's true. I have seen areas in need of vast improvement in me. I have vowed to tone down the negativity. I have rededicated myself to training, even on subjects I could care less about. I have learned that I don't have it all figured out. I have seen inadequacies and am working towards eliminating them. I was awakened to who I am and who I need to be. I may never rectify all of my shortcomings, but I'll strive for nothing but my best.
My happiest moment of the week? Standing on the curb with my bags and the airport and seeing my wife and 3 boys pulling in to pick me up. Hands down that was the greatest moment. I missed them so much and I owe her nothing less than endless devotion. While I was off having one of the most profound learning experiences of my life, she was left at home with a tribe of bloodthirsty Apaches. What's left to say? Thank you for reading!