By Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO
From the time I joined the fire service in 1970, I heard the tale of President George Washington as a volunteer fireman who purchased a pumper for the fire department. The problem is there are no primary documents to prove the story is true. I can understand our need to keep the story alive; the fire service being connected with our Founding Fathers and the first president gives the fire service historical credibility and political value from the birth of our country.
Finding a modern fire service leader in Curt Weldon
We need to tell a new story, a modern, true story about fire service politics if we want to achieve credibility as a noble calling. We find this in Curt Weldon’s fire service autobiography, “Awakening the Sleeping Giant.” The hero of this story is Weldon, a volunteer fireman who became a U.S. congressman, created the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, changed the American Fire Service forever and was politically sabotaged because, although a republican, he did not pick sides.
The book tells Weldon’s story from growing up in a fire service family, joining the fire department, becoming politically active and making a difference in Washington D.C., and his vision of “one world for life.” If you read between the lines, you learn the values, beliefs and ethics that drive Weldon’s behavior and make him successful.
This book should be required reading at every level of fire service study, because it has applications that move beyond only those understood by fellow firefighters. An analysis would connect the theories Weldon applied to his practices, because the fire service is an interdisciplinary life and death discipline that impacts all of us.
Weldon’s book is an important one for fire chiefs
For the fire chief, this is a political how-to book: how to be political without being partisan, how to see the fire service as being part of politics, how to see politics as a positive force for good, how to see the fire chief’s job as political – meaning, for the good of the people. Today, the fire chief needs to study politics more than the Incident Command System.
If you’ve ever attended a congressional Fire Cause dinner in Washington, D.C. over the past 30 years, or if your department has ever receive an Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, you need to read this book, because you are the beneficiary of Weldon’s contributions to the American fire culture.
Joel Barker once said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just takes up time. Vision with action can change the world.” Weldon’s vision and action has, and will, continue to change the fire service and the world, and it is an important firefighter true story to tell. By knowing and telling true stories of past visionaries, we challenge and inspire ourselves, and others, to do better.
From one firefighter to another: good job, Curt and thanks.
About the author
Dr. Clark has been in the fire service for 45 years. He was a firefighter in Washington, D.C. and assistant fire chief in Laurel, Md. He retired from the National Fire Academy. His is the author of “l Can’t Save You, But I’ll Die Trying. The American Fire Culture.”