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President's Letter: The Fire Service on the Cusp of Greatness

The following is adapted from the inaugural address of Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC president and chairman of the board, delivered at Fire-Rescue International 2012.

What an honor to be serving as president of the IAFC at this time, when each day offers exciting changes and new challenges and when innovation is everywhere.

I can’t help feeling that the fire and emergency service is on the cusp of something truly great. In order to achieve that greatness, though, there's much that we need to do. There are changes to the collective fire service perspective that we need to make.

Working Together

First, we must move from an us-versus-them mindset to thinking about how we develop allies.

Internally, we must find ways to operate as a unified team. It doesn’t mean we always need to agree, but it does mean we should be pulling in the same direction.

Externally, we must look at partnerships in new ways. We can't be afraid to reach out to the private sector, nonprofits or other public-safety agencies.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Future

Second, we must keep our eye on the present and the future, not on the present and the past. Our traditions are a wonderful part of who we are, but history is only made by moving forward.

Col. Mike Mullane, a retired astronaut, in his FRI keynote address talked about success not being about fate, luck or popularity. He said success was a conscious decision to practice courageous self-leadership: making the decision to set lofty goals, staying laser-focused, and adjusting as needed—but never wavering from the path when obstacles present themselves.

That is what I want for the fire and emergency service.

We need to stop thinking about how to fix the economic environment and focus on managing our economic situation.

The economy didn’t break overnight; it’s a cycle of ups and downs. The challenges we're facing today aren't new—even if they are new to us.

We need to manage the resource available to us today by educating the public and elected officials on the value of our services and all it takes to provide them—adjusting both the public’s and our own expectations—and thinking outside the box to work more effectively and efficiently as we move forward.

And we must stop saying “because”; we must start asking “why not?”

I don’t anticipate we can achieve all these things in the next 12 months, but I do hope that together we can move farther down the road.

Leading and Serving

I couldn't shake two words mentioned in FRI's opening session’s invocation: wisdom and servient.

Keep those words with you as you go about your day today and as you head back to your departments.

Wisdom and servient—to lead and to serve.

That's what makes the fire and emergency service the greatest profession in the world.

And that's what will enable us to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds. To believe that together we can—and will—resolve the problems that confront fire departments today. And to believe that each of us can make a difference in building the future.

Chief Hank Clemmensen
President and Chairman of the Board

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