The things we see & Faith to keep going

Witnessing Life & Death in 24 hours

“Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see” Hebrews11:1

As a firefighter, it is not uncommon for us to see many different calls for service in one shift at work. One particular shift that sticks out in my mind was the tragic death of a 2 year old child. At the time, my wife was at home with our 2 ½ year old daughter.  At that moment, I couldn’t see any hope in what we had witnessed that night. The very next morning I was scheduled to run my very first marathon.  We all sat up after that call and talked about our families and some of us called our wives at 3 am just to check in. There is comfort in knowing that your family is safe after seeing such loss.

That next morning my wife and daughter met me in town and cheered me on for 26.2 grueling miles after being up all night. I have never felt more encouraged and thankful for my family as I did that day. As I ran, I remembered that little boy and I kept going.

The pain of that tragic loss that evening was a reminder for me to always be thankful for every single moment with my family. “Faith is the trust that God asks that you have in Him” (Ravi Zacharias).  We must understand that while we are here on this earth we are to be about the business of showing His love in our families, with our friends, and in our lives. I can remember that child’s face to this day but rather than focus on the loss of his life I choose to be a better father, husband, and a firefighter each and every moment in honor of him and what God has done for me. “I consider that the present sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)

God Bless you all,

Andy J. Starnes

Incident Command: A Faith Based Perspective

The Fire Service is made up of a diverse group of individuals who come from various backgrounds, religions, races, and environments. We are as different as they come when you look at us from an outsider’s perspective. What is it that ties us all together? What is the common bond? A common trait if you will? 

If you want to see an example of how the world’s problems can be solved, watch a group of firefighters perform during an emergency. They function together, under a central command, working towards a common goal without haggling over the details. To quote Chief Alan Brunacini “Done beats perfect”. We work towards a control time, stopping the forward progress of the incident, and bringing back a sense of normalcy to a chaotic event in other’s lives.  We don’t focus on our differences, our issues (God knows we have them!), or whether or not we like the company we are working with. We get it done for the sake of our safety, our citizens, and our inner drive to make a difference. 

Why this happens:  Standing on Common Ground

We function under the Incident Command System (ICS). We arrive at an emergency and plant our flag in the ground defining the beginning of the end of this incident. The first arriving officer stakes their claim by examining the situation (size-up), formulating a strategy (IAP), and continually evaluating the critical fire ground factors, conditions, and progress of the incident as he/she implements the tactics with the resources requested for their incident.  This plan is executed through branches, groups, divisions, strike teams, etc and is expanded as needed depending on the size and complexity of the incident. It is “pre thought out battle plan” if you will that allows IC the freedom of safely applying an Incident Action Plan within a framework that all the team players are well versed in.

When we go to battle: We put on our Armor (See Ephesians 6:11-13)

Every firefighter who is well trained knows the value and importance of their personal protective equipment (PPE). From wearing our nit rile gloves on an EMS call to protect us from bio-hazards during the delivery of patient care to a fully dressed out firefighter in turn-out gear, SCBA, and carrying the necessary equipment for the job; we understand that if we are going to be effective we must “dress for the party”.  A symbol for strong faith, especially during times of adversity and stress in the Bible is Armor.  “Put on the full armor of God so that you take your stand against the devil’s schemes…Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians6:11, 13).”  We must understand, as brothers in sisters in the fire service, that if our hearts are not protected with the “full armor of God” that no matter how well trained/dressed we may appear we are actually fragile and helpless on the inside.

Every firefighter faces insurmountable challenges with the knowledge that they are: well trained, well equipped, and will function under a common framework (ICS).  This gives us confidence that, no matter the task, we will strive to positively influence the situation and leave it better than we found it.  We understand Situational Awareness which is being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and you own actions will impact your goals and objectives, both now and in the near future (Preventing the Mayday by FDNY).  Facing challenges in life can negatively impact our heart and our passion for life in general.  We, the well trained & well protected, are often the most vulnerable to pain, tragedy, and loss.  Too many firefighters suffer silently for years without speaking of their pain. The signs of such suffering are too obvious in our trade: high divorce rate, alcoholism & drug use, PTSD, are just a few of the “side effects” of our personal pain.

In an incident, we address the situation from a CAN report (conditions, actions, & needs). We state the conditions upon arrival (size-up), we determine our plan of attack (offensive, defensive, and the specifics of each mode of attack), and we state the needs that we require to achieve this goal such as requesting a second alarm. In my station we have a motto “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it”.  We call for help early so when we need them, they are already there. Any emergency is difficult for those involved otherwise they wouldn’t call for help.  Why is it that as first responders we don’t apply this own approach to our own lives in moments of crisis?

The Call for Help:

When the moment strikes: a child stops breathing, you awake to find your home filled with smoke, you are struck by another vehicle and your are trapped inside your own car, or your loved one suddenly collapses at your side…What do you do?  You call for help. You don’t wait. You don’t worry about what others will think. Your need is immediate, your heart is on your sleeve, your world is falling apart before you so modesty is the last thing you are concerned about. This is a reactive state of mind. We as firefighters are so well trained to be proactive and function calmly in the face of chaos that I believe it is our own worst enemy when it comes to personal problems. How many firefighters have you heard about that ended up divorced, committed suicide, had a substance abuse problem and the response was “I never knew they had a problem”.  The answer lies within our own profession, we don’t want to call for help, and our pride is our greatest demon.  One of my favorite passages of scripture is Isaiah 65:24. “Before they call, I will answer. While they are yet speaking, I will hear.” God stands at the ready and has already laid out your rescue plan. Will you call upon His name?

Size-Up:

As firefighters we address the situation appropriately with our training, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities. We are tenacious and believe that we can take an 1 ¾ line into hell and put it out. This attitude is of arrogance plus ignorance has equated to the loss of lives, marriages, health, and careers.  We must practice what we preach at work and at home.  We all need help sometimes. We respond to million dollar homes and impoverished communities for the same reason: they need help!  Our titles, ego’s, and pride get in the way of asking for help. Do not let your life “burn down around you”, and then call for help at the last moment as the cavalry to arrive at an “un-savable property”.  Your conditions, actions, and needs report can be applied to your own situation. You have been given the training, the tools, and the resources to do the job.

Now is when you need the Holy Spirit to fill you, equip you, and comfort you. God’s word promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you-Hebrews 13:5”.  Put down your pride and find a brother/sister that you can talk with. I want you to understand the value of fellowship. We are not meant to be alone “It is not good for man to be alone. Genesis “.  Our God is a God of comfort, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God-2 Corinthians 1:3-4.”

There is no Testimony without the test:

Coming along side another who is hurting takes one of understanding. It requires empathy over sympathy for the injured party to confide/open up to you.  The moment of adversity, tragedy, or conflict that you face is not solved by another who can come along side you. It is eased by the comfort of those who have faced this before. Anyone who is married understands that if your wife comes to you with a problem, most of the time she doesn’t want you to solve it; she wants you to listen to her and show that you care. We as firefighters, come along side others in their moment of crisis with a unique perspective. We have probably seen it, been through it, or experienced this moment in a variety of ways: personally, professionally, or from a support role.  We are the “hands and feet of Jesus” in a world that doesn’t care about others. We show up and help our “neighbors”.  Thus this principle and innate drive to serve should compel us to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling. If you are drowning, call for a life line and if you see someone who is drowning, throw them a rope. 

Reading the Smoke:

We have to practice the principles of Situational Awareness in our own fire stations and lives. We must be vigilant to cues/signs of a co-worker who is struggling. If you are driving back to the station from a call and see a house on fire you don’t keep driving; you take action and go to work.  We can apply the same principles of reading smoke to reading our co-workers. We learn that in reading smoke that turbulent smoke is indicative of high heat, high pressure/velocity that can lead to thermal insult quickly. If you are around a co-worker who has signs of turbulent behavior, it shouldn’t surprise you when you hear of some tragic circumstance later. We are taught to read the building, read the smoke, understand critical fire ground factors, and to continuously monitor conditions as you apply your strategy and tactics.  This same concept can apply to your co-workers and family.  You are the best judge of your family’s health because you know them better than anyone else. If you see signs of instability, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, making unsafe or dangerous decisions, then you should speak up.  Don’t crawl past fire! Put it out. Take your loved one or co-worker aside and tell them that you care.

Getting back in service:

After a fire is over, we go through the salvage and overhaul process. We try to save what we can of the resident’s belongings and we work to make sure there aren’t any hidden fires that will cause a rekindle.  In our lives we must understand that no matter how damaging or difficult a situation may be we can get through it. 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26).  Salvaging what’s left of your life may be a bad analogy but think of it this way: In a fire, the resident who seems to have lost everything but then you emerge with their family photo album, a family heirloom, or some irreplaceable item that has great sentimental value.  The building may be lost but the lives that sustain it survive. Because of the hope that sustains them they rebuild and start over. In our lives, we can do the same. We can salvage what is left. We go to God with a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:7) and He will “give us rest” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Coming along side your brothers, sisters, or family members and helping them “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) will be the greatest save you ever make. Apply the skills, concepts, and education that you have worked so hard for to your heart and those around you. They can and will save your life.

As we overhaul, we all know the danger of a hidden fire. In life, if we leave a situation unresolved or we don’t properly deal with it, it will ‘rekindle’ and as in a fire it will cause much greater damage the second time.  Overhaul is tough work, it isn’t the fun and adrenaline filled experience that you had upon the initial attack of the fire. In life, overhauling your problem will be even tougher work. You must get to the ‘seat of the fire’ and remove any charred remains/embers that could cause you further pain later.

It is difficult to stop certain behaviors. It costs us greatly and we often lose relationships over it. Many of my friends don’t look at me the same any more. They know how I “used to be” and think that my new life is false. I can only speak of my own walk, when I say this.  Making a change for the better is difficult but in the end it is the best decision you will ever make.  I rededicated my life at the 30 years old. I had the epiphany that I couldn’t continue with the choices, behaviors, and lifestyle that I was leading. My friends, it is only by the grace of God and through the fellowship of believers that I am where I am today. My wife is my greatest blessing next to my Lord and Savior. She has helped me grow as a man and a Christian. Because of our walk together, God changed our heart and allowed us to have a child. Our daughter, Emma, is a living miracle. Each day that I get to spend with them is precious and nothing in my “old life” is worth what the present and future holds for me in Christ.  Overhauling your life isn’t something you do alone. As on a fire scene, it takes a crew of hard working firefighters to get the job done; so as in life you will need those who can come along side of you and share your load. May God bless you and direct your paths.

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

The Marriage May-Day: Firefighters need to call for help

The Marriage May Day:

‘Knowing when to call for help’

In the fire service, we are well trained on the subject of Rapid Intervention and May-Day scenarios. We train on possible downed firefighter situations and how to extricate ourselves or our brothers.  For the non-fire service reader let’s give a brief summation of a May Day scenario.

A reported house on fire is dispatched and as the fire department arrives they receive a report of a resident who is trapped in their bedroom.  The first due Engine establishes command and after performing a 360 takes his/her crew in for the rescue.  Other companies are arriving as the first Battalion Chief assumes command.  The firefighters become trapped as they were searching for the resident and are pinned down by a roof collapse. The downed firefighters are able to transmit a May Day, a call for help, in which this information is received: “May-Day, May-Day, May-Day, we are trapped in the Alpha/Bravo corner of the residence, this is Engine 99, we were performing a primary approximately 50’ in, and we will need RIT with a way to cut us out.”  This is called a LUNAR: location, unit & name, assignment, & the resources needed to affect the rescue. When this happens, a Rapid Intervention Team is deployed (RIT). This is a well-trained crew who is situationally aware of the incident. They have conducted a 360, thrown ground ladders for additional points of egress, controlled utilities, and have been attentive to the fire ground radio traffic.  They immediately go in to affect a rescue on those in need. At this point the Incident Commander orders additional resources, continues to fight the fire, and insures fire ground accountability.

What does this all have to do with marriage?

Nine out of twelve firefighter marriages end in divorce. That’s right 9 out of 12! As a profession, we are higher than the national average (which is 54%).  Firefighters face an enormous amount of stress and it often carries over into their personal lives.  What can we do about this problem? Let’s look at from a firefighter’s viewpoint:

Scene Size-up:

As a firefighter, the process of size-up is a continuous one that begins before the rig ever leaves the station. At a fire scene, the Incident Commander (IC) is constantly evaluating the conditions and whether the situation is improving.  In marriage, we should be constantly assessing our relationship. As a husband, I should be continuously studying and learning about my wife. Initially our passions, or fire if you will, are great for each other. Why do we treat our spouse’s differently after we are married? We shouldn’t stop dating each other after we are married. It is merely the beginning of a lifelong journey.

As we go through life, the conflicts and commitments tend to cause us to focus less on each other and more on the immediate needs/concerns/or problems of life. Couples slowly begin to drift apart due to a lack of attention and care.  A relationship takes a great deal of work and dedication. The couple must be holding on to each other during the hard times or they will drift apart.

Working Fire: You have come to the realization that your marriage is in trouble. Sadly, most realize this way too late. It comes when they learn of infidelity or have been served divorce papers. As on a fire scene we have to be proactive, having an Incident Action Plan and or a strategy is key to the successful mitigation of an incident. In marriage, we need to embrace the plan, God’s plan, and follow His principles.

If you have read the Bible, you will find that the marital relationships that are referenced there are not without fault. Some faced great difficulty, trial, adultery, and some of it is even comical as Solomon wrote “It is better for a man to live on the corner of a roof top than underneath with a nagging & complaining wife.” (See Proverbs).

Firefighters tend to be problem/solution oriented. Someone calls for help and we fix their problem. It troubles us to realize that we have a problem that we are not able to solve. In firefighting, we train, read, exercise and discipline our lives so that when we face adversity we are ready. We have thousands of hours spent on perfecting or learning our craft. How many hours have you invested in being a better husband or wife?

We need to be putting our house in order: God, our spouse, our children, family, friends etc. Identifying our problems early on and taking ownership of your part in it shows that you are not trying to blame your spouse. By coming to the one you love in humility and brokenness shows that you truly love them. This shows that you care more about the relationship than more about who is right or wrong. “Confession is the first step in repair and often the most difficult. Without confession, forgiveness is impossible” (Big Ideas of the Bible by Mark Fackler). In my life, I always say: “I can right or I can be happy”.  Being right is far less important to me that showing my wife that I love her more than life itself.

I look back at our wedding day where we stood before God and many witnesses and remember the promise that we made. Do we take that promise lightly? Do we lessen the value of our commitment when our spouse has wronged us and refuses to change? In the book “The power of a praying husband” Stormie Omartian states “But God spoke to my heart, saying, It is not a matter of who needs to change, it is a matter of who is willing to change. If you’re willing to change, I (God) can work through you right now.”(pg.22)

 

 

Calling the May-Day

May-Day: You are in trouble. Your marriage has collapsed. Your spouse is leaving or has left you. Now what?

Call for help! James 4:2 states “You have not because you ask not”.  Our pride is often our biggest enemy. We believe that we can do anything. After all, people call us to solve their problems right? This can be a detriment to your marriage. Call upon God, humble yourself and ask for help. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Reach out to your brothers/sisters in the fire service. I find it appalling that we will lay down our lives for complete strangers but yet we will not confide in one another when we are hurting. I know that many of us have fallen victim to confiding in someone only to find out that they betrayed our trust. When you are hurting don’t put up a false front. Those who know you best will see through it quickly and if you don’t confess it to them you may find your situation worsening.

Humble yourself and realize that your marriage is more important than another’s opinion. If you are a firefighter who is pinned down and needs help, you do not care who helps you as long as help comes and comes quickly. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) My coworkers and I believe that it is better to have abundant resources than having to wait for the cavalry. In other words, “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it.” The body of Christ is all around you and if you call His name He will be there.

Additional Resources: Many churches offer marital counseling, divorce care, and other marriage ministries to help those in need. As in the fire service if you think you are in trouble you probably are: Call the May Day! Don’t let your pride get in the way of losing your spouse and your children.

Rapid Intervention Teams: You have called for help and are awaiting the cavalry. Sadly, not everyone’s relationships will be reconciled. As in RIT scenarios not all firefighters are rescued successfully.  The most common similarities in fire ground Line of Duty Deaths after a May Day has been transmitted were: lack of fire ground accountability, no hose line protection, and poor communication.

Marriage Accountability:

In marriage, if we are not growing closer together we are probably drifting apart. Understanding the need to constantly invest in your marriage helps to put our priorities in order. Your marriage takes maintenance. As a couple, you need to be investing in each other through prayer, date nights, family time, marriage ministries (such as Focus on the Family’s weekend to remember marriage conference) and taking the time to help each other grow closer as you further your relationship with God.

No protection:

If we step outside of our marriage in areas that could be viewed as inappropriate we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Some signs of being unprotected are:

If you spend more time with your buddies than you do with your spouse(Warning!)

If you find yourself confiding in marital matters, consistently, with another person who is not your spouse (Warning!)

If you have a habit that takes precedence or priority over your spouse or family (Warning!)

Many husbands and wives suffer divorce due to infidelity/adultery. But the common misconception is that it is due to a physical affair. If you are married and you allow the devil to get a foot hold in your life do not be surprised when the divorce papers arrive. Pornography, alcohol abuse, addiction, job lust (loving your job more than your spouse), activities that consume your time so you cannot spend time with your family (these can be good activities as well), and anything that you allow to take precedence over your relationship with God and your wife will ultimately drive a wedge between you.

Poor communication:

I heard a marriage counselor state that most people learn how to “not talk to each other” by getting married. He went on to say, walk into any restaurant and you can immediately tell who most of the married couples are. They are the ones sitting there silently or eating and not paying any attention to each other.

On the fire ground communication is critical. Without good communication, someone’s life may be lost. The same goes for our marriage, without good communication and the willingness to talk to each other (lovingly) we are already headed for a disaster. Take the time to talk with your spouse. Listen empathically, this means that you really care what he/she is saying, and be engaged which in my case means: put down the phone, stop doing what you are doing, and listen to your spouse by looking at them directly.

Marital LUNAR:

My purpose in writing this is not to offend or hurt anyone but to help. A firefighter who transmits a May Day sends out information based on the LUNAR acronym. It provides those who are coming to save them with critical information.  Calling your LUNAR in a Marriage May Day could be seen as this:

Lost: My location in my marriage has become uncertain and I need RIT (Redemption Intervention Team) I will submit and follow my GPS (God’s Plan for Salvation).

Understanding: Verbalizing to your spouse that you understand the seriousness of the situation. Confess your brokenness, take ownership of your part of the relationship, and in true humility show your spouse that your greatest concern is for the restoration & renewal of your marriage.

Name your problem: Look at your situation and take a step back. Where did your troubles really begin? What was the “slow fade” that caused your relationship to crumble? True reconciliation will only occur if you understand what brought you to this point in the first place.

Assignment: You now know the seriousness of your situation, you have admitted you have a problem, you have named it, and now it’s time to take action. Step forward in faith with your spouse and begin working on the problem(s).  This will be uncomfortable but necessary.

Reconciliation: The goal in calling the marriage May Day is not to rescue you from your current circumstances but to reconcile your hurts, wrongs, and lack of trust so that your marriage can begin a new as Christ has redeemed you. Let Christ dwell in your heart and focus on His will. His Holy Spirit will guide, teach, and admonish you along the way. Understand that this can be a slow and long process. Your relationship, most likely, did not fall apart over night; so don’t expect your spouse to jump right into the relationship like nothing happened. Something did happen! Now, take this set of difficult circumstances and use it to make your relationship stronger. But remember, you must take each step slowly. Your spouse needs to trust you again their trust has to be earned.

Conclusion:

I see a tremendous need in our profession for marriage ministry and counseling daily. If you are as aware of this as I am, I challenge you to do something truly heroic: Be there for your brother, listen to them, guide them, and don’t let them travel down a road that could lead to harm. You swore an oath to protect lives and property. This oath should begin by protecting your family and your co-workers around you. Don’t turn a blind eye to their problem and use their plight as gossip material later.  Step up to the challenge and show them that you truly care. Let’s save ourselves so we can continue the greatest tradition the fire service has to offer which is that of Sacrifice:  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Sacrifice your time, your energy, your pride and help one another.

Stay Safe & God Bless

Andy J. Starnes

Isaiah 65:24

Surviving the Fire Service Part 1: It takes more than training

 

I was raised in a good Christian home by two loving parents. I am the older of two children. My Father worked a full time job and volunteered at the local fire department in our community. He dedicated countless hours to the community that we lived in. As a young boy, the way I spent time with my Father was to go with him to the Volunteer Fire Station. I grew up in the halls of an old brick, five bay building that hosted community fish fry’s and barbeques to keep the fire department running. I watched as men and women gave of their time, talents, and their own personal monies to benefit the good of the community that we all lived in. As I grew up, I noticed a common trait in each person. Each person who volunteered as a firefighter didn’t show up for recognition or financial reward. Every one of them truly cared about their community and they proved it day after day by their consistent sacrifice of their own personal time. They would come together in times of crisis and great need, putting all of their differences aside, and would work as a family to take care of the situation. These individuals had problems, family issues, weaknesses, and faced many struggles but they never let that stop them from serving others. This is what makes the fire service unique.

How many jobs do you know of that if the employees were not paid they would still show up for work? I know of one. There are 1,100,450 firefighters in the United States today. 756,400 of those firefighters do not receive a “paycheck” for what they do. These are our volunteer firefighters and they are the backbone of the fire service. I can say that I am blessed to receive a paycheck for what I do. I was raised in the volunteer service and was told “Find a job doing what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I have been employed now “doing what I love” for 15 years.  It has been an amazing journey thus far and I look forward to the next 12 years of my career.

I came to a point a few years ago where I lost my drive and passion for the fire service. I let circumstances and certain struggles drain the very life out of me. I was at a crossroads where I had never been before. I contemplated leaving the fire service.  God was gracious to me and renewed my spirit. I rededicated my life to Christ seven years ago and I also have renewed my passion to “work hard and cheerfully at all that you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely your masters,” (Colossians 3:23). I have found an inner desire, a constant pull on my heart, which drives me. This desire comes from fulfilling of your personal calling. If you feel called to be a firefighter then this article is for you.

In the beginning: The Calling

How did you come to be a firefighter? I have told you my story. What is yours? What drove you to pursue this endeavor? Take a moment and ponder this question: Have your motivations/reasons to be a firefighter changed over the course of your service? Do you feel called? At this point, some of you may stop reading because you don’t feel a spiritual connection to what you do. Maybe you don’t believe in God and maybe you don’t believe in being called but I challenge you to take a closer look at the job description of a firefighter for a moment. Look deeper than the skills, tactics, and bravado. Look past the “no fear stickers”, the firefighter models, and the hero awards. What makes a person want to sacrifice their time, effort, money, and even their life for little or no pay with no thought of recognition?

 “God asks that all that follow His will do to so by using their callings in ways that help others and witness to God’s love for humanity. Each person will have a “gift of the Spirit” to use in his or her calling. There are two kinds of calling. The first is to worship God alone and to believe the gospel, namely that salvation has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The second is to live for God through active use of gifts and talents, serving others and renewing creation.” (Big Ideas of the Bible-Mark Fackler)

Are you actively using your gifts and talents, and serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity? My friends, if you are a firefighter, you are doing just that. Some may view this as heretical but I ask you to look at the “what” you are doing each and every day as a firefighter:

Confirming your Calling: Serving the least, the last, and the lost.

A few examples of serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity:

At 3 am when the bell hits to assist lift an invalid off the floor because his wife can no longer lift him, her family has abandoned her, and she tearfully thanks you. When you are overhauling a rundown old house that caught fire and you take the time to carry a pair of shoes out to a crying child next to a single parent who just lost everything. When a citizen knocks on your door at the fire house, asks for help, and you sit to talk with them for an hour because that’s what they needed most. When you care enough to go back to check on a citizen who lost a loved one, after you did CPR on them and you tell them “We are here for you no matter what”. Does any of this sound like compassion to you? Is this required of you? No, it is the values that are instilled to us as firefighters that come from within. “The King will reply, truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Some firefighters deliver service, others deliver compassion and care while helping others. These men and women exemplify servant hood and hold the title of firefighter as close to their chest as the badge is as close to their heart. No other profession would ask of you in your interview “Do you understand that you could possibly be injured or killed during the course of your career? Do you understand that you have a dramatically higher risk for cancer (50% higher than the general population), divorce, depression, and your life span may be shortened due to unforeseen health problems? Do you understand that you are committing to serving our citizens no matter what their belief, race, creed, or problem may be? Do you understand that you will be asked to perform your tasks under the most stressful circumstances when you are tired, sick, and/or hungry? Do you understand that we are not looking for an employee? We are looking for a firefighter…Do you still want the job?

More than just a job:

In the corporate world, you may know your co-workers but I would wager you never will know and trust them at the level firefighters know each other. You eat together, sleep together, and hang out off duty together, work your side-line together and you help each other outside of work when needed. Firefighters come to each other’s aid in their own department and outside of their department. Brothers & sisters who suffer tragic loss, face terrible disease, or who are killed in the line of duty are looked upon by fellow firefighters as their own family. Firefighters travel great distances to attend funerals, donate bone marrow, provide relief efforts, fill in at other stations and the list goes on and on. With all of these examples of compassion, courage, integrity, service, sacrifice, and generosity do you honestly believe that these characteristics are developed through a hiring process? No, they are God-given values, inherent to what we do, instilled in us by our creator. Anyone who does this job for any length of time, even if they do not believe, will tell you that it takes a special individual to do what we do. That “special individual” is one who is called, leaned on by the Holy Spirit (even if they don’t recognize Him), and pushed to give back more than they are given even in the face of great adversity. They feel compelled to “love their neighbor” because they believe in something greater than themselves. Have you felt that inner longing, that drive to do more, the pulling on your heart that tells you that this life is more than just being successful. That feeling you have, that we often ignore, is the Holy Spirit leaning on you, calling you, and telling you “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.(Hebrews 13:5)” A friend of mine said it best. How do you know if you are called? If you can do anything else, anything else at all and be happy…He is not calling you to this profession. If God is leaning on your heart, you will know it. You will only be at peace when you come to understand that He wants your heart.

Understand this simple concept: Just because you don’t believe in God, it doesn’t mean He that he doesn’t believe in you. A firefighter, serves those in their most dire moment of need, without thought of recognition or whether or not they like the person they are helping. Who does that anymore? Look deep within your heart, be still, and understand that you were made for a purpose. This purpose can only be fulfilled through a relationship with Jesus. We live in a country where we are free to worship, believe what we want, and say what we want. My goal in writing to you is not to offend you but to share this message with you: God loves you, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God didn’t send His son to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 3: 16-17) Open your heart to Jesus today. Fulfill your calling and He will allow you to do great things by serving others like never before. All I ask is that you consider  what you are already doing is a mere reflection of what you truly could be through Christ.

God Bless & Stay Safe

Your brother in Christ,

Andy J. Starnes

Surviving the Fire Service: A few points to remember

Surviving in the fire service

At the Inception of your career:

 1)   Is it the right job for you: Don’t accept the job or stay in unless you have an understanding that your job requires humility, courage, and self-sacrifice. Always under promise and over deliver. You will always be expected to give more than you think you are capable of.

2)   Servant hood: The role of a firefighter is one of service. The public trusts that on their worst day you will be at your best. Strive to maintain that trust by staying disciplined.

 3)   The power of failure: When you make mistakes, learn from them, and let your failures build character and experience. It takes a lot of “Atta Boy’s!” to get over one “Oh Crap!.

 4)   Surround yourself with wise counsel. Develop an informal network of those who have been there and done that. Their knowledge and experience is valuable.

 5)   Be slow to speak and quick to listen: Take your hands out of your pockets and put your feelings there instead. It takes effort to do this job and it takes heart. If you walk around with your hands in your pockets, your jaws flapping, and you feelings on your sleeve you are destined for trouble. Listen intently, work hard, and one day you will be providing words of wisdom to someone like yourself.

 6)   The power of perception: Always know that a single interaction with the public leaves a lasting impression upon them of how the entire fire service behaves (scary but true!). Always leave the situation better than you found it. Mind your words, guard your temper, and treat others as family.

 7)   In the fire service you have two families: Your family at home and your fire service family. Your family comes first and your fire service family comes second. You will spend 1/3rd of your life with them. Do not take this lightly. Show them that you value them as family. (Rick Lasky)

 As you progress in your career:

 8)   Don’t forget where you came from! Lest you forget we all started as a rookie firefighter. If you left the job tomorrow the fire service would go on without you. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.

 9)   Learn to say “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.  It is okay not to know everything. Remember as a crew you achieve your goals as a team not through the efforts of one individual. Be wary of those who know everything.

 10)                Leadership: In the fire service leadership is earned not given. You must be respectable in order to earn the honor of your crew’s respect. The trumpets on your collar stand for Leader & Manager as a Captain. Don’t take those responsibilities lightly.

11)                Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small. This is absolutely critical in the fire service where decisions made in a matter of seconds can determine the outcome of someone’s life.

 12)                Embrace Unity: Don’t divide the fire department into factions. We are one fire department and despite the other shift’s inadequacies you will find your shift isn’t perfect either. Don’t make excuses, take ownership, and move on.

 13)                Done beats perfect: Some days things do not go the way you would have wanted but if everyone went home safely, be thankful;  there will be a next time for you to improve.

 14)                 The foundation: Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on. The citizens you serve cannot afford amateur hour during their most critical moments. Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well.

 Italics reference quotes from Rumsfield’s Rules

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Fire Service Leadership: What’s your motivation

Leadership: What’s your motivation?

It is apparent that leadership is a hot topic in the fire service today. One quick search on the internet reveals that leadership is something that is written about, lectured on, and taught on many different levels across our nation. Why do you think that leadership is such a “hot topic”? Leadership has been wrapped up in a neatly packaged wrapper and marketed in a very poor manner. The motivations behind leadership today are superficial in most places. How do we seek a deeper understanding of how we can lead others? In this series we will address a definition of leadership that will set your apart.

“What a waste to try to change their behavior without truly understanding the driving needs that cause such a behavior! Yet millions of people spend a lifetime searching for love, acceptance, and success without understanding the need that compels them.” (The Search for Significance pg 11)

Leadership is establishing a direction and influencing others to follow that direction. By definition, Leadership is an influence process. So in order for us to lead we must first understand what drives us to do so. What is your motivation to be a leader? Is it for recognition or monetary reasons? Is your ego pushing your to lead or is it out of your devotion to your family or some deeper calling? Rick Lasky’s “so you want to be firefighter” is a profound example of how we should check our motives and take a deeper look at ourselves before we pursue this goal of being a leader.

Leadership in the fire service, in my opinion, is a servant based leadership. You lead by example. Your consistent application of your values, work ethic, and your dedication to your crew is what sets you apart. This goes deeper than education. Intellect and education is an important part of being a leader but your team will not commit to you unless they know that you care. Have you ever noticed that some of the best leaders were the ones that people seemed to naturally gather around? What attracts people to follow someone?  “Good leaders know how to bring the best out of people. They are encouragers and motivators. They see the target ahead and pursue it.” (Charles Specht). These individuals are genuine, sincere, and have integrity. They are not afraid to admit their mistakes and most importantly they haven’t forgotten where they came from.

The most effective & important leaders in the Bible had little awareness of the impact their lives had on others. They were too busy obeying God to keep track of their successes. Why were they effective? Their focus was not on themselves! They were focused on the bigger picture: God’s plan for his people. These leaders were humble and obedient to God’s plan so they could lead others. Do you base your leadership skills by the certificates on your wall or in the profound desire to positively change others in your sphere of influence? When you leave this earth you will not be able to take any trophies or diplomas with you. However, you will be judged by the impact you had on others and whether or not you cared enough to make a difference. This is accountability on the highest level.

Self-less or Selfish?

Are you someone who motivates others? Do you look for ways to bring out the best in people? Are you encouraging more than critical? These statements are wrapped around one central word “motive”.  Leaders who have defined history (in a positive way) are self-less. They are focused on others, their needs, and they see the good in others. A leader with pure motives can see the good in each person and collectively applies those resources in such a way that produces positive outcomes while building up their confidence & camaraderie.  This comes from a selfless ambition that begins with a pure heart.

How do you become a leader?

Take a moment and look at your life. Who are you? What defines you? If your job or title was taken away would you still be significant? Does your salary define your significance or do you measure significance by the lives you touch?

My friends God has made you unique. He has a special purpose for each one of his children. If you believe that you cannot make a difference or that you don’t have what it takes then you have not trusted completely in Him. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding-Proverbs 3:5”.  God has left us His word that lists example after example of inadequate, ill-equipped, and fearful individuals who produced miraculous & extraordinary results through God’s power.  The Bible lists name after name of those who trusted in God and did great things.  For example: Moses was not a good speaker yet God worked through him to speak to the most powerful man in history at that time to free the Israelites.  David was the smallest of his brothers but was a “man after God’s own heart”. He became one of the greatest kings who ever lived. Paul was the greatest persecutor of the Christian faith and became the greatest evangelist for the Christian faith. Paul also is responsible for writing most of the New Testament.

Why you?

“God has shaped you to serve through your experiences, educations, gifts, personality, passions and relationships. God has people and situations that you are divinely prepared to touch.” (Dave Earley)

The process of becoming a leader started when you were born. Every moment of your life has uniquely prepared you for the circumstances of your future. Your testimony, trials, and tribulations are not just painful memories but “hard life lessons” that have made you stronger. There is no testimony without a test. These lessons will enable you to lift up others around you that are struggling. These difficult experiences, if you will draw from them rather than let them destroy you, can be the reason you are calmer, stronger, and decisive in the face of adversity.

Where is your heart?

“The man or woman who lives only for the love & attention of others is never satisfied, at least not for long. Despite our efforts we will never find lasting fulfilling peace if we must continually prove ourselves to others.  Does your sense of self worth depend upon your status, your title, or your spouse? This void is only meant to be filled by God? Your search for significance should both begin and end with God’s word” (The Search for Significance)

The world we live in seems desperate for constant approval. We are more concerned about the political correctness of society than following our morals and values that are God given. We spend a vast amount of money & resources to impress people that we don’t even know. We dress in fine clothes, live in the largest houses (compared to the rest of the world), and have more material possessions than anyone else in the world.

Yet we are the most depressed, obese, and anxious society in the world. If we have everything than shouldn’t’ that mean we should be happy? Why is it that our hearts seem to be constantly searching for meaning and fulfillment only to be disappointed yet again by another person, another material possession, or another achievement? Each one seems to leave us emptier than the previous attempt.

Your heart was designed for a purpose.  The fulfillment of your heart and peace that you seek will never be found in a person, place, or thing. All of which will eventually disappoint you.  This void is only meant to be filled by God.  It is cross shaped scar that can only be healed by Jesus. Once your heart is opened to His love your world begins to change. Problems don’t go away but “a peace that passes understanding” fills your heart during life’s storms.  You become a “new creation in Christ Jesus” and this is all due to God’s great love for you that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us-Romans 5:8”.  You will “do all things through Christ who gives you strength” (Philippians 4:13)

Leaders who possess the peace of God in their heart will influence others in profound ways. Their motivations are self-less, they want others to succeed, and they will sacrifice and go to great lengths to achieve goals for others. This seems to go against the belief of society today. If you truly want to lead, you truly want to make a difference, and then I challenge you to do the greatest thing you could ever do: Humble yourself before the Lord and ask God to send you today. Be ready to make difference in others lives.  God is saying to you today : “Be strong & courageous for I am with you”

Lead from a heart motivated by Christ,

God Bless & Stay Safe,

Andy J. Starnes

2013 CFFA 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Charlotte NC

On September 7th 2013 members of the fire, police, and EMS family will gather at the Duke Energy Center to climb in memory of those lost on 9/11. For those of you that have not participated before, I offer this perspective. What does climbing 110 flights of stairs have to offer? This opportunity is about history, it’s about remembrance, and it’s about camaraderie. The fire service is about family. Our family consists of a unique group of individuals who, despite their differences or backgrounds, come together with their collective strengths and accomplish amazing things under very harsh circumstances. We come from all walks of life. We are a diverse group of men and women who, as a whole, care about others more than ourselves. We share a common drive to better ourselves all for the sake of others. Our stations are called “fire houses” because they are our “home away from home”. We spend approximately 1/3rd of our lives with our brothers and sisters in the fire house. We come to know the good, bad, and the ugly sides of one another and work through it all. We are there for our fellow citizens in the tough times and we are there for each other in our times of difficulty. This is an opportunity to help other firefighters who may be going through difficult times. The men and women who perished on 9/11 held the line and didn’t back down in the face of adversity. We can pay tribute to them and their loved ones by honoring that sacrifice by climbing, donating, volunteering, and sponsorship.

If you choose to participate in this event, it will change and challenge you. It will cause you to reflect on those members who climbed that day possibly knowing in their heart that they would not get to see their loved ones again. We climb because we want to remember, we want to pay tribute, and we want to express our support to our brothers and sisters across the country. This event is an excellent opportunity to bond as a crew and to bring your family as well. It takes approximately 100 individuals to organize and implement the event. It takes hundreds of hours of planning, fundraising, and working with our local media to raise awareness of the event. We need your support and are currently asking for volunteers to work the event. We will be selling T-Shirts and challenge coins this year as well.

All of the funds raised from this event go to support various charities but the main beneficiary is the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.  I challenge each of you to read about this organization and learn about their positive efforts which range from: funding the FDNY counseling unit , to providing travel, lodging, and meals for immediate survivors of fallen firefighters being honored at the national tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty during the previous year, to providing families of the fallen with emotional assistance through a Fire Service Survivors Network, which matches survivors with similar experiences and circumstances and the list goes on. Check out:http://www.firehero.org/about/ to learn more.

In closing, we humbly ask for your support of the CFFA 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. We are in need of your participation, volunteers to help run the event, sponsorship (you can sponsor a floor for $100), and we need individuals interested in being on the committee to continue into the years ahead. I thank you for your time and consideration. I ask that you take a moment and in the wake of all of the firefighters we have lost this year to remember them. Read the NIOSH reports, train, exercise, and take care of each other. I asked a member of the FDNY after 9/11 what could I do to support or help our brothers and this is what he told me “Each day that you work, get off the couch, and encourage others to do the same.”

We look forward to seeing you there,

Andy J. Starnes

Volunteer Coordinator

CFFA 9/11 Stair Climb Committee