As a military veteran myself, November always makes me think of Veterans Day, a time when we pause to recognize all of our veterans for their service to our country. I also think of our fire service veterans and their service to their communities. It's not uncommon to see military veterans in the fire service, and it's intriguing to note the commonalities between both services.
The primary purpose for both soldiers and firefighters is service—one to Country and one to Community. The fire service is often referred to as paramilitary, with its rank structure and the necessity to follow orders in emergency situations. In both situations, your mission is your highest priority, but to achieve it you must work as part of a well-trained team. Great soldiers and firefighters tend to be altruistic, as they always put others before themselves.
Serving in the military also provides other skills to help the individual learn and grow. Just as in life, there are many specialized skills that can be acquired through military service. Although serving as a firefighter in the military is directly related to civilian firefighting, other military occupations also round out an individual's skill set.
A few examples would include operating heavy equipment, mechanical work, medical support, dealing with hazardous materials, serving in a leadership role or even cooking. In today's ever-broadening fire service mission, all of these skills can be extremely beneficial. Although having military experience doesn't guarantee that an individual can be a successful firefighter, it generally provides an advantage.
In my near 37 years in the fire service, I have worked with many military veterans, and hired many of them after I became chief. I saw people who brought a wide range of skills to the job, as well as allegiance to their community—and their comrades—and a commitment to duty. I believe they gained these attributes through their military service. When I reflect on my fire service career, I believe the leadership skills I learned in the army were invaluable, but it was simply my military service alone that opened the door that allowed me the opportunity for a career of community service.
In my case, I'm blind in one eye. It was discovered when I was about 8 years old and is described as a lazy eye. I have peripheral vision, but don't use the eye for normal sight, which affects my depth perception.
Like most people with disabilities, I was able to adapt and function near normal. When I applied for the firefighter's job in 1974, I had my physical, and the doctor noted my vision defect on my application.
When I went before the police and fire commission for my final interview, one of the commissioners stated, "We see, by the doctor's note, that you have a vision impairment. Firefighting is a very dangerous profession and we're concerned that it might create unsafe circumstances if you were to be hired. Do you understand?"
My response: "I was concerned as to what impact my eyesight might have on the hiring process. But, I'm hopeful that, since my vision was good enough to serve my country in the army, with a tour of duty in Viet Nam, it will be considered good enough to serve my community as a firefighter."
The commission thanked me for the interview and I left. Several days later, after all interviews were conducted, Chief Danz offered me a job as a probationary firefighter. Without the opportunity provided by the military, I would not have been able to serve my community, I wouldn't have been able to serve fire chiefs the world over as president of the IAFC and I wouldn't have enjoyed a career working alongside amazing men and women.
In closing, I want to say to all veterans—both military and fire service—thank you for your service, and stay safe!