We the Post Traumatic Souls

We the Post Traumatic Souls

We the Post Traumatic Souls:

In most cases, the world looks upon its public servants with high regard. There are a few that abuse the position, tarnish its reputation, and damage the public’s trust. As a whole, less than ½ of 1% of public servants abuse their place of public trust. This is percentage better than doctors, lawyers, and even our clergy.

Yet, in the midst of such great trust and such great responsibility there is something that the public doesn’t see. They don’t see what we truly see. They don’t know the burden of the ghosts that haunt our spirits and how we are statistically dealing with these scars in self-destructive ways.

Firefighters, police, and first responders are suffering from PTSD, anxiety & depression, and the number of suicides is on the rise. Why is this so? Is it the one bad call that sets off a chain reaction of a personal firestorm? Or is it the cumulative stress of the things we see daily and then add our struggles that we face in our own lives?

The young woman whose life was taken too soon by a careless drunk driver…

The lifeless infant thrown to you as you arrive with passionate screams from the mother to save her child…

The constant exposure to death, tragedy, difficult personnel problems with no consistent sleep…

And when we do sleep is often interrupted by flashbacks, shaking, or jolted awake by the tones for another call for help…

The constant exposure of everyone else’s tragic circumstances does not leave the servant unscathed…

In fact, we often carry these personal moments with death us. Without our knowledge, their moments become part of us, begin to affect our daily actions and relationships, and soon our lives begin to unravel from the sheer stress and weariness of carrying the weight of too many losses.

This is where we begin…

Where we realize that their deaths and pain were not ours to own…

We need to understand our role was to help even if there was seemingly nothing we could do…

Our very presence brought assurance, comfort, and in some ways closure for others…

But when those who have lost loved ones, we do them a great disservice by our refusal to let them go…

For many who have lost those dear to them, they will always have a scar on their heart but yet they will move on…

For us to hold on to their pain, to relive it, to feel regret is to prevent the living from healing…

We don’t realize it, our subconscious repeats the incident, and hypervigilance seems to steal our peace…

But we must understand, when a funeral happens it is not for the dead but for the living…

So they may grieve, so they may heal, so they may say goodbye…
We the post traumatic souls refuse to let them go, the dead are restless as they constantly re-live their last moments in our minds…

We blame ourselves, we pour our pain away through prescriptions, alcohol, trying to cover the pain with poison…

When what we really need more than anything is peace…
Yet tragically, so many seek this peace by ending their own lives…

The desperation of the moment, the lack of sleep, and the stress of it all diminishes their focus and they believe the lie of the enemy that suicide is their solution…

And then they die not realizing that by their actions they have laid another restless soul upon another’s heart…

Their death and loss becomes another’s burden and we repeat this cycle…

So what do we do? How do we let go of all this pain and begin to heal?

Post-Traumatic Stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Our bodies reacting with all of the symptoms are the effects of the collateral damage of catastrophes crashing through our attempts at resiliency. We need to realize that we are HUMAN! We need each other and we need help bearing these burdens. We need the peace of God in our hearts that comes not from this world but from a settled assurance that the overwhelming circumstances of our lives are reconciled. In Philippians, Paul reminds us to:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Did you hear that? “The peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This peace comes from knowing that we have been reconciled to God not because we are worthy, not because of anything we have done, but because we the broken and contrite have come to the foot of the cross and realized that the scar in our souls can only be healed by the one who loved us so much that He died for us.

Paul understood the burdens of a weary soul. He lived a life in which he persecuted, arrested, and had Christians murdered. He must have awoke many nights reliving those moments and feeling great sorrow for his past. Yet, He was able, by the grace of God, not only to move forward but to minister, to plant churches, and write most of the New Testament (to name a few of the mighty works God did through an imperfect and sinful man).

We need to realize, that no matter our past our pain and tragic moments are not meant to be our permanent address. Grief and sorrow have their purpose and we are meant to feel these emotions but we are not meant to dwell there forever. To do so is to reject the gift of God and create a prison of hell and torment while we are on earth and this is what the Devil would have us do.

“For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone” (Lamentations 3:31-33).

The challenge we face as servants to our fellow man in their last moments is not to take ownership of them nor to let those moments own us. They do not define us but yet refine us. If we don’t seek help, these moments can collectively destroy us. We who have been greatly tested can either courageously share our testimony or we can become bitter and alone. We can take post-traumatic stress and as we heal in time can show post traumatic growth by ministering to others who suffer as we did. We can remember what we have been through but not relive it. We can look in the eyes of the hurting servant first responder and truthfully say “Many will tell you that they know how you feel but they don’t. However, I do know how you feel and I don’t have all the answers but I will listen, I will be here, and I will walk with you as you heal.”

May we all come to know the peace that passes understanding…
May we all have the courage to seek help in our broken moments…
May we all turn our tragic moments of pain into testimonies that we share to help those experiencing the same…

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

Please see our resources that are available on the Firefighter May-Day Page for more information on how to receive help or how to help others:

Firefighter May-Day

Minimum Standards Maximum Requirements 

Minimum Standards Maximum Requirements 

Minimum Standards Maximum Requirements:

As a firefighter who has served many years, many can say that they have seen numerous examples of firefighters and employees. A firefighter can be defined as one who lives out their calling consistently, gives without though of recognition, and is always working to improve their capabilities to serve their fellow man.  

An employee, may be considered as one who only seeks to meet the minimum standards. In many cases there are those who somehow maintain the title of firefighter yet fail to do the work necessary to be a firefighter. They wear a uniform, they look the part, yet when the call for service comes they are often found hiding from work, producing excuses why they could not complete the job required of them, and all the while they never claim any accountability nor responsibility for their negligence. 

We can see the same type of examples in our daily lives: in our faith, in our families, and our commitment to our communities. In this way, we see many individuals refuse to believe or walk away from God due to the minimum standard Christians or those who claim the title yet abuse the calling they fail to live out. As James tells us “Faith without works is useless” (James 2:20b). People need to see our faith and see it lived out in our lives not just in church.

Many of us were either raised in church or know about God but there is large percentage of firefighters today who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are many firefighters today who have been seeking a relationship with Christ but have been “put off” by “believers” whose hypocrisy shined through their false beliefs. There are also many firefighters who are hurting, suffering in their marriages, and many others issues who feel lost. They are desperately seeking hope yet many Christians fail to share the hope of Jesus Christ with them. 

With that being said, just what does it mean to have accepted Christ? 

How do we as firefighters who save others become saved by Jesus?

But what if your heart is the one in need of rescue? 

What if after reading all of this you are feeling a great burden and pain within your soul? 

Many of us today would like to have a relationship with Jesus but have hesitated or walked away from our faith. The three primary reasons that people often cite for not believing in Jesus are as follows:

1) Anger at God: Many have suffered greatly and feel angry towards a God who would allow such circumstances or tragedy to have occurred in their lives.

2) Claim without consistency: Many have felt the desire to have a relationship with Jesus but have fallen away because of the hypocrisy of other believers. They look upon those who claim to be Christians and see how they woefully misrepresent the faith that they claim.

3) Too many unanswered questions: Many individuals have pursued a relationship with Christ but have many tough questions that few have been able to answer such as: If God is a loving God how could He send someone to hell, Why do bad things happen to good people?, and the list goes on.

In our lives as firefighters we can all relate to these questions. We can recall the times when a child died, we lost a friend in the line of duty or to suicide, and or a tragic circumstance occurred that hurt us greatly all of which can contribute to becoming angry. We can understand the first reason for unbelief, because if we are truly honest, we have all experienced it. We have all doubted, all cried out in anguish, and begged God for answers but why are we really angry? 

Because we all desperately want answers! 

We save people yet we were often unable to save those in our lives that have been lost. We blame God and shake our fists at Him crying out Why God? Yet who are we really angry at? If we took the time to reflect we may find that our anger is truly directed at ourselves. We blame God because we cannot bear the weight of such a burden. We hurt and feel that He has abandoned us in our plight. Yet in reality, He has never left us nor forsaken us. Many of us have dictated our faith rather than submitted to Jesus as Lord basically telling God that we would have followed God if God would just go our way.

The second reason why many individuals fail to believe in Jesus Christ is the hypocrisy of other Christians. One doesn’t have to look very hard to see this all around us. We see Pastors who have fallen from the pulpit due to sex scandals, Christians who are divorced or their marriage is in shambles, and we see those who claim to be Christians treating others around them harshly. 

Yet, I would ask you to consider these words for a moment:
“Never judge a belief system by those who choose to abuse it” (Ravi Zacharias).

What do I mean by this statement? If we as firefighters base our reason for not believing in Jesus Christ due to the hypocrisy of others what would happen if we applied that same logic to our professional lives? Would we refuse to go to work as firefighters because there are hypocritical firefighters within our firehouses? Would we stop working out because there are out of shape individuals in our work-out groups or gyms? Would we stop being faithful in our marriages because the divorce rate is so high? I believe we have come full circle on this point. We now see that we cannot base our reason for unbelief on the hypocrisy of others. We have to base our reason for belief on our own hearts, minds, and souls. We must base our belief on our personal decision to do so and not our circumstances, our hurts, or our anger at those who claim to be Christians.

The third reason that is often cited for not believing is one of the most difficult to face. This is the fact that there are too many unanswered questions in regards to our faith. Perhaps, you have wondered about these difficult questions? As firefighters, we see a problem and we respond with a well-trained, properly equipped, group of individuals who rapidly mitigate a chaotic situation. But how do we respond so well to the unanswered questions of others? When their house is burning down, their loved one lies lifeless on the floor, or their child is choking we respond with intentional actions that resort in resolution because of our knowledge, our training, and our passion to help others. What if we applied this same logic to this reason for unbelief? What if we looked upon those unanswered questions of life and begin to study God’s word, got involved with a group of believers who can guide us, and began to seek answers in prayer? How do you think our mindset might change?

If you have walked through these questions and feel that a tug at your heart please don’t ignore it. God is reaching through the flames of your life and is pleading with you to take His hand. He is saying to you “I love you so much that my Son died on a cross so that you may live. And He lives today and will come into your heart and forgive you! He will walk with you through your life. He will give you comfort in the midst of the fires of life. And He will set you free from any burden that is holding you prisoner if you will believe in Him”

This is the point where we take action. It is not where we feel inspired and only go thus far. Take the next step and accept Christ, rededicate your life, renew your marriage, reconcile your differences, and look to these resources to get you started on your journey:

Fellowship of Christian Firefighters International offers free bible studies, access to Bibles, free daily devotionals, resources on how to start a local chapter or small group and so much more! President Craig Duck is a retired DC firefighter who has a passion for ministry and is doing tremendous things for the fire service from hosting online Bible Studies, men’s retreats, a yearly marriage conference, and they just released a new outreach Bible called “Rescued.” Please check them out and be encouraged knowing that there many brothers and sisters in this wonderful organization who can help you in your faith journey no matter what mile marker you are on. 

http://www.fellowshipofchristianfirefighters.com/index.cfm?Section=1

247 Commitment by Lori and Dan Mercer: This organization was started by Lori Mercer as she shared a blog post about the challenges of fire family marriages over four years ago. They have since grown to a thriving online community for fire wives, numerous resources for marriage and family, the honor guard for men, and the new book release which can be considered a standard operating guideline for fire families entitled Honor and commitment. There is even a free book for fire families available. Please check this site out, as I am friends with Lori and Dan, and I personally believe in their mission. They are doing tremendous things for fire families from commitment weekends, to developing resources, and speaking at conferences.

http://247commitment.org/about-247-commitment/

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

Perseverance 

Perseverance 

To Persevere:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus-Hebrews 12:1-2 

Firefighters understand the value in perseverance. The demands of the hiring process, recruit training, continuous training, promotional exams and the constant increase of areas of expertise that are added to our service level require that we persevere.

Every firefighter should understand the amount of effort that will be asked of us all one day. It is a statistical certainty that a firefighter will be pushed beyond his or her limits.

How does one prepare for such a defining moment? 

Can anyone ever be truly ready?

To persevere to such a level requires a drive that is NOT solely based on one’s profession; it comes from an innate strength given from above.

It is demonstrated in one’s daily life:

To persevere in our marriage and family life..

To persevere in the face of persecution for one’s belief in God…

To persevere in one’s daily habits of personal discipline that builds the foundation on which we all will be tested on:

Our faith, Our principles, Our integrity, Our willingness to sacrifice for others without recognition.

Our love for our fellow man no matter our differences, And our belief that there is more to life than what we see before us.

We are to persevere no matter the political climate.

We are to persevere no matter how negative our environment has become.

We are to run the race knowing that the battle has already been won but our performance is a sign of our obedience to the call.

We are to do all these things as a reflection of not who we are but whose we are. We are God’s creation and He loved us so much that He have up His only Son to die for our sins.

Living in the light of that knowledge changes our outlook to one of gratitude for each and every day we wake to face.

We are to persevere because Christ didn’t give up on us. We are to run the race set before us because Christ didn’t stop His journey to the cross. He knew the path set before Him and yet He marched onward knowing what He would face.

He did all of these things out of His great love for us. How much more should we persevere to reflect His love to others?

Do not give up! He is with you! The battle has been won, the course has been charted and we know the final outcome. It is our responsibility to fulfill our calling till we cross the finish line in Heaven.

God Bless,
Andy Starnes 

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

Facing Hard Times? Help is on the way!

Facing Hard Times? Help is on the way!

Facing Hard Times? Help is on the way:

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope. “ Romans 5:3

But we all would ask how do we glory in our sufferings? 

Many of the writings of God’s word pertain to suffering. If we would read those verses while our hearts are hurting would we come away with a renewed perspective. We see this in the Psalms:

Psalm 77:1-2 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;at night I stretched out untiring hands,and I would not be comforted. 

Yet, not many of us look at the problems of life as something to be happy about. As firefighters, we solve problems for others but respond differently when they affect us. We show up at large and terrible problems and function quite well under those conditions.

Why is this?

As a firefighter, we understand this concept better than we would like to admit. 

We understand that in order to be a better, stronger, and more disciplined that we have to endure many hardships.

Training, education, and exercise are some of our disciplines. But what about applying those disciplines in our own lives? Are we training for the next hardship of life?

What about when we face opposition? Have we considered those who have gone before us and how much opposition they faced? Such a man was Nehemiah. Nehemiah hurt for his people and went to rebuild the walls of his beloved city but was faced with an even bigger wall: the wall of adversity!

“But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” 

In our actual service we see tragedy, illness, death, and loss almost on a daily basis. This can carry over into our personal lives and cause us to cope in unhealthy ways that are destructive to those around us.

Let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves: 

Do the hard times we face in life make us weaker or stronger? Consider Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, David, Job, Paul, & our Lord Jesus. Did they all not face tribulations?

Each moment and each experience is an opportunity to produce “perseverance, character, and hope” as James reminds us.

These moments and experiences are not meant for us to internalize and let them destroy us from the inside out. 

They are meant for us to share, draw on each other’s comfort, and to use them in the future when we face even more difficult moments. 

What we often forget is this: 

We are not meant to carry these burdens alone. Remember that!

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

This is a brotherhood and that means we carry one another’s burdens together! We do everything as a team so why should one of our brothers/sisters have to face a personal crisis alone?

These moments can define us or destroy us. Through Faith and Fellowship they can be a source of strength.

The Application:

As we face hard times in life we must remember to share our pain with others. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that we are human.

Without others calling for help, the fire service would not need to exist. With that in mind, begin by calling out to God and to our brothers/sisters for help.

Consider this tactical benchmark check list for our lives:

Size-Up: Pray! Tell God what your facing and share it with someone you trust.

Transfer Command: On an incident, the higher ranking officer takes command upon arrival. In our lives we don’t have to wait on God’s arrival. He is always there. Let Him take Command.

Follow His IAP: Immediately Apply Principles- God wants us to do our part; which demonstrates our faith (trust) in Him. Start mitigating the problem by following His plan.

Report to Rehab: As we work on the struggles we face we will become weary. 

This is where we are to radio Command: “God, I am tired and weary”  

And Jesus replies “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 

Remember as a firefighter, when we arrive at an emergency what do we do?

We go to work resolving the problem. Why?

Because we have confidence in our training and in knowing that help is on the way. 

“Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear” Isaiah 65:24

So Pray and remember that our confidence is directly correlative to our dedication to God’s word. Our ‘training’ is our study and application of God’s word.

Then we are get to work on the problem knowing that help is on the way.

In closing, hard times will come but it is how we choose to respond to these moments that will impact our lives and the lives of those around us. 

Let us practice the principles of God’s word as the ultimate training for the problems we will all face.

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

Leadership-Nowhere to Hide

Leadership-Nowhere to Hide

Leadership-Nowhere to hide:

Anyone who has embraced the call to ‘step up and lead’ understands the weight of this great responsibility. 

Whereas we once cast stones at others about their incompetence or poor leadership abilities; we now are more understanding due to having walked several miles in their shoes. 

Leadership by its very definition is to be out in front. In times of conflict, those who are out in front are bold but also the ones to first to receive the first opposing fire from the enemy. 

In the fire service, the very act of becoming a firefighter is the acceptance of leadership. 

A firefighter is on the nozzle, taking the brunt of the harsh environment they enter. A firefighter is the first through the door in many challenging situations and is often the first to sacrifice for another. 

But as one steps up into the front seat of the fire service, they encounter an entirely new perspective. They are not often greeted with appreciation for their decisions. And when the time comes to deliver unwelcome news, they now bear the true burden of leadership. 

Many speak of leadership under fire but many shy away from dealing with the ‘working fires’ under their own supervision. This is leadership that is in “title” form only and is lacking the courage that leadership requires.

Everyone who writes of leadership speaks of leading from the front, setting the example, and staying accountable but few enlighten others of the responsibility of having to discipline, or deliver unwelcome news, and accept responsibility for the actions of others. 

Few speak of the challenges of having to discipline those who are our friends who took advantage of the relationship. 

Few share the pain of loneliness felt when those we try to help, they walk away, or refuse our counsel. 

Few speak on the hurt as they try to affect change within the organization only to have their ideas and countless hours worth of work discarded as if it were meaningless. 

Few individuals understand that these aforementioned experiences are part of being a leader as well. The responsibility, privilege, and authority in leadership goes hand in hand with accountability. There is no escaping this.

We as leaders cannot have one without the other. It is a balanced equation that must be understood. The trumpets on our collar are symbolic of a leader and a manager. 

Leadership means to embrace all of its responsibilities and not shirk away from the hidden struggles of personnel problems. It also means that we are to lead, inspire, and motivate others even if they move on. For our highest achievement and knowledge base should be their starting point so they may improve upon the future in ways we could not. 

A leader’s goal should to be help others reach their full potential. This requires great personal sacrifice and is often painful. But we are not here for an awards ceremony, our greatest reward as leaders will be reflected in the hearts of changed lives that we were blessed to watch over. 

So when the next dark moment comes upon us, and we wonder if all our work is for naught; pause and give thanks that we are an integral part of the leaders of tomorrow. Our efforts are developing and shaping the future of emergency services.

Hold the line and stay encouraged!

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

The Broken Road

The Broken Road

The Broken Road

In this life, we are not promised an easy road and we know trials will come our way. 

We have hope in Christ knowing that the war has been won yet we must endure till we are called home.

In the midst of all the pain, grief, tears and tribulation how does one endure when our cries to God feel unanswered?

God loves us so much that He died for us so that we may have a relationship with Him. Yet in our pain we forget that not only did He did all these things He also lends us His ear.

Consider this:

Have you ever considered that those who minister to us in our moments of pain are the hands and feet of Jesus?

Those who listen…
Those who cry with us…
Those who show up when we need them most..
Those who send a card..
Those who care enough to stop their lives to help mend ours…

This is the ministry we have been called to. The ministry of bearing one another’s burdens.

For God made us for relationship with Him and with others. Let us look upon our brothers and sisters who are hurting with a new found compassion and realize that Jesus lives in our hearts and the actions of our love.

Don’t crawl past a fire, extinguish the flames of the devil with the love of Christ.

For we are called to comfort one another:

“We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. That is because we receive so much comfort through Christ in the same way that we share so many of Christ’s sufferings.” 2 Corinthians 1:5

So if we have suffered greatly, let our pain not be in vain! Look upon the world around us and recognize the eyes of the hurting.

Let us come along side them and offer them God’s comfort for we too have been there and by God’s grace we are still here. 

Let us take our tribulations and turn them into wisdom to lead others out of their darkness.

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes
Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

The Board of Directors

The Board of Directors

The Board of Directors:

In an organization, the larger decisions are often made by a group of members who collectively can render the best decision based on their wealth of experience and knowledge. This is commonly known as the board of directors. They provide direction and guidance. There are many good and bad examples of organizations whose board of directors have either lead them successfully or have driven them into the ground.

In our lives, we can learn a great deal from the ‘board of director’s’ analogy. To understand our purpose, to stay accountable, and to stay encouraged we all need a board of directors in our lives. They can provide wisdom, guidance, support and valuable advice. Their ‘life experiences’ serve as a model for us and when they speak to us we respect their opinion for they have earned our trust. As in any organization we should be very cautious in choosing who serves on our board of directors. These individuals may serve indefinitely or they may only serve on ‘our board’ for a few years; but having a ‘board of directors’ in our lives is a priceless commodity.

In the fire service, the value of having a personal ‘board of directors cannot be overstated. As a young and upcoming firefighter, it is tremendously valuable to have a ‘board of directors’ who provide the proper guidance, training, and advice. The future of a young firefighter could be steered in a disastrous direction without the proper counsel and support. For example, if one who is passionate and energetic about the calling of a firefighter becomes involved in a poorly led department with negative peers they may be tempted to fall into the trap of bitterness. Their passionate vision for the fire service may be snuffed out by being in a ‘vent limited’ environment. It is truly sad to consider how many future leaders of the fire service may have given up due to the lack of support that they so desperately needed early on in their career.

As one moves forward into positions of leadership in the fire service the value of having a ‘board of directors’ becomes even more important. In organizations, corporations, and the fire service as we move up into positions of greater accountability our board of directors may become smaller. As a firefighter we may have had ten trusted brothers or sisters we could call upon but now as a Battalion Chief we may have three individuals that we have absolute trust to share our burdens with.

In 2010, I found myself in a dangerous position; discouraged, bitter, and with only one member on his board of directors. This led to many changes in my life. This writing is to encourage others and provide anyone, firefighter or not, with a principle based support system for life.

1) Establishing a Personal Board of Directors: 

An individual’s ‘board of directors’ is based on understanding his or her strengths and weaknesses. A wise mentor once told me before I was promoted that I needed an ICN: Informal Captain’s Network. He instructed me to choose five trusted senior Captains (some active and some who are retired) and reach out to them. Keep their phone numbers close and maintain this relationship by continual communication. This has been tremendously valuable to myself and has helped me through some very difficult situations (personally and professionally). I then began to understand that my personal board of directors needed to be based on areas in my own life where I needed constant guidance, support, encouragement, and accountability. Thus the board of directors follows the following format.

2) Chairperson: 

This individual is the ‘go to’ person for the big decisions of life. This person must have paid their dues through adversity, trials, failures, success and be willing to share those moments with you. For myself this person is my Father: Joe Starnes. He has checked on me every day of my career by calling me each morning after my shift. I am blessed with an hour ride home in which I have often spent that entire hour talking with him. It has been the best Critical Incident Stress Management Program that I could have. When my father goes to heaven, God will place an extra star in his crown for all that he has done in the service of others. For he has paid it forward especially in my life.

3) Leadership Counsel: 

When we face the tough questions or situations in life what would we give to be able to pick up the phone and call the Chief of a large department and receive their counsel? The world of social media has allowed many of us to establish relationships and bonds of friendship with fire service visionaries. It has blessed me and I am so thankful that I have several members of the fire service that I can call who will take the time to speak with me on matters of leadership. It has been said that when an elderly person dies, the world should mourn as if a priceless library of artifacts has burned down. If you have someone in your life that has faced great adversity (World War II veteran, retired leader of an organization, etc.) consider yourself blessed. Go and reach out to them. Sit and listen to their life story and take notes. Our next lesson in leadership can either be paid through trial & tribulation or learned from the dues paid by someone much wiser than ourselves.

4) Encouragement: 

Everyone will face hard times in their life at some point. The question for us all is this: “Do we let them destroy us or refine us?” It is when we are knocked down that we realize that brotherhood by encouragement is so important. Many individuals have given up, lost hope, and made decisions that have terrible consequences for their life. It is my belief that by having a strong support network of encouragement that we can get through these dark times. “Two are better than one because…For if either of them falls, the one will lift up the other.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) For myself, I have three individuals that periodically check in on me. They know my mannerisms, my behavioral issues, and all of my past demons; and surprisingly enough they are still friends with me. I am blessed that we check on each other with a phone call, breakfast after our shift, or a random visit to my house. They are angels on loan to me in my life and I cannot thank God enough for them. Remember, a kind word costs us nothing but the dividends they pay are eternal.

5) Accountability: 

This is one of the most overlooked positions on an individual’s personal ‘board of directors’. Many of us want to receive guidance, encouragement, and support but we don’t like to be held accountable. In the fire service and in our lives, if we do not have accountability measures in place we are headed for disaster. In my own life, I know that I am weak in many areas and I am well aware of my sins. I have come to understand that “I cannot possibly serve another in un-famed humility if I seriously regard their sinfulness as worse than my own” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). I am blessed to have a few brothers that hold me accountable in my faith, in my family, and in the fire service. They do not hesitate to inform me when I am slacking, heading in the wrong direction, or if I am blatantly wrong. They are the most important members of my ‘Board of Directors.’ All of the things that matter in life hinge upon our ability to be obedient to God, the people we love, and our calling. I can honestly say that without these trusted friends I would have been lost. “A rebuke goes deeper to an understanding person than a hundred lashes to a fool” (Proverbs 17:10). I have grown tired of the lashes and welcome my accountability members rebuke.

In closing, I share these words with you not to condemn or criticize anyone but to share my own personal failings in life. I know that I am blessed to be where I am and that I do not deserve the wonderful faith, family, and fire department life that I have but for some reason God has allowed these blessings in my life. I look back upon my regrets and my mistakes and now realize that if I had listened to instruction and had a ‘board of directors’ that I would have suffered less and learned even more. It is my hope and prayer that you would seek out your own personal ‘Board of Directors.’ And I pray that you approach them in an attitude of humility and seek their guidance. And most importantly, when they share their counsel with you; don’t disregard it! They earned that wisdom through painful trials and tribulations and their hope is that we will not make the same mistakes as they did. Let us pay it forward by embracing their wisdom and applying in our own lives; thereby paying them the respect and honor that they deserve.

With the backing of a strong board of directors, we now have a support system to encourage us, lead us, and correct us thereby keeping us accountable in our faith, our family, and our work in the fire service.

Wisdom is priceless, counsel is valuable, and applying it all under the multitude of counselors ensures that you will be able to do the same for someone else some day.

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries