Serving our community

CarolinaFireJournal - STEPHEN MARKS
01/11/2010 -

Regardless of our background in the emergency services, we are charged with the responsibility of serving our community. Most of us realized this when we began our careers, although it may not have been the only reason we chose to follow such a path. It doesn’ t matter whether we are paid or volunteer. It doesn’ t matter if we dispatch the calls, respond to them, or clean up after them. We’ re all in this together —serving our community.


Did you choose your profession out of a desire to serve others?

Remember, we are all in this together. This is somewhat unique to us in the emergency services. We train together, we respond together and we live together. Consider when you first began your career. You likely attended a recruit school with your fellow classmates. For most of us, it was something new and exciting.

Maybe you enrolled in a community college to become a paramedic or took courses for basic law enforcement training. Perhaps you participated in firefighter certification classes or trained to be a telecommunicator. More than likely, you learned the material with others, in a group setting. And there was a common thread, weaving everyone together. Could that thread have been a collective yearning to help others in a time of need?

I attended the 37th Recruit Class for the Greensboro Fire Department in the spring of 1987. Each class had to choose a slogan, and ironically enough, ours was “Serving Our Community!” We came up with this phrase because so many of us had used it during our interview process. I guess that we figured it would impress those who made the hiring decisions. Little did I know then just how much that one slogan would impact our lives.

We may not immediately recognize our desire to serve others. It is often hidden by the excitement of the moment. There is much to learn and experience once we complete our training. The flashing lights and blaring sirens add to the adrenaline rush of responding to emergency calls for assistance. For many, serving our communities comes second to our own personal growth and maturation early on within our chosen profession.

As we become proficient with our knowledge, skills and abilities, some of that initial enthusiasm slips away. The excitement will eventually become simply a routine at some point in our careers. And if we are not careful, we can lose sight of our true calling —to provide service to our community. We have all met that firefighter, paramedic, law enforcement officer, telecommunicator, etc. who has become critical, resentful or even outright bitter.

Where then do we go to rediscover that fulfillment that we may have once possessed? How can we re-ignite that passion? In reading some leadership material, I came across an old fable that may help us to find the path which leads us back to our calling.

There once was a very prosperous and successful king. For centuries, the royal family had held a secret from their loyal subjects. They had been keepers of the key to happiness. After so many years, the king was fearful that the people of his great kingdom would learn of his family’s prized possession and, if found, use it unwisely.

One morning the king summoned his brightest and most trusted sage to help solve this dilemma. “Bury the key to happiness in the deepest ocean,” proclaimed the sage. “No, my subjects would surely dive to the depths of the sea to find it,” replied the king.

“Hide it on top of the highest mountain,” was the sage’s next recommendation. “No, I know my people —they will climb relentlessly and discover the key there,” said the king.

“I know,” said the sage with confidence, “bury it deep within each of their hearts. They are sure to never look there to find it.”

Our desires and our happiness remain with us always. We just need to look in the right place. When we search our heart for that true calling, it is there that we find the fulfillment in serving others. So, when the day-to-day routine begins to dampen our spirit to serve, we just need to look within our own hearts to rediscover the passion.

Serving others also means caring for our own. That mode of service —to our own peers within the emergency services community —is equally important. Before our comrades lose sight of their chosen mission, before they become disillusioned and insufferable, we can help them to look into their own hearts to revive that ever present passion. Remember, it’s always there. It’s just sometimes hard to find without the help of others.

Whether we are helping a family in need during an emergency or comforting someone during their own personal crisis, we are serving our community. When we lend an ear to a friend with a problem, or help a coworker through a difficult period in their life, we are serving our community. And here is something that we all know: serving others is personally fulfilling. If it wasn’ t, we would not be in the business of public safety and caring for those who are in need.

Did you choose your profession out of a desire to serve others? I believe you did. And if you ever begin to wonder if you are making a difference in someone’s life, know that you are. Should you become weary and indifferent, look inside your heart for that passion that keeps you motivated to help others. Our calling to care for others in their time of need is indeed that thread that weaves us all together —serving our community.

Stephen Marks, a 25 year veteran of the emergency services, is the Technical Services Manager for Guilford Metro 911 in Greensboro. He routinely writes and speaks about various leadership and management issues within the emergency services. Marks can be contacted through his website at
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