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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in New York; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Writer Looks at Forty

I can honestly say that I had no expectations of what this day would feel like.  I remember seeing the high school kids with my third grade eyes. The excitement of knowing someday I would be that tall, drive a car, go to college. I remember starting at Ohio State and eagerly awaiting the day I would graduate.  Those points, like the other end of a bridge, were there... waiting for me.  And they came soon enough.  

But this is a little different.  A milestone without the mountain climb or the hill.  I don't feel like I have crested the wave, or reached a summit.  I suppose it feels more like a long steep incline somewhere on a mountain, above that point where the green fades to grey and the living things move no further.  

I was in Utah for the first time recently.  The mountains around Salt Lake City look as though they were dropped there.  Or carved out of some child's eager efforts to get the highest grade ever achieved in a Geography Class though a use of plaster and food coloring that goes beyond the imagination.  I thought Brigham Young just brought the Mormon faith, perhaps he dropped the peaks as well. They look that out of place and are draw you in just as the young ones do who work so hard to introduce you into the faith. 

I sat for a long time looking at them and the valley and the radiance.  As the sun slipped away that evening, the light shimmered across the flatness, bouncing off the buildings and the glass and the houses and the pavement. It was an amazing sight, and I have to say that I felt at peace.  Like a million Christmas stars over a million mangers.  I knew then why, for so many, it was the place.  

There are not many times that I feel that much at ease anymore.  They come so rarely that I can catalog them-- like great lovers or good books.  Both of which find a spot on the shelf of your memory and remain among the dust and the wood and the yellowed pages of a favorite volume. But seeing those mountain tops and that setting sun, It felt as though I belonged. As though I had accomplished something.  Maybe that's what brings peace now.  When you get so far along a road you just want to know you have arrived somewhere. Someplace calm and inspiring and warm. Even if only for a moment or two. 

I feel peace in his arms too.  Even in the middle of a painful day.  It feels like that mountain.  The light bounces the same way off the sheets and the smile.  And it feels like being inside a cup of hot chocolate on an October Morning just before Halloween.  

Maybe that is the point that is supposed to come into focus as the pages flip on the days of future passed. Maybe its less about feeling accomplished than it is just about feeling. The feeling of the ache in the shoulder that doesn't often go away.  The feeling of loving in a way you didn't think you could.  The feeling of awe at the top of a hill that reminds you of a journey that, at least in some form, is not forever. 

I guess that is the difference.  Forever is a word in the vocabulary of a third grader... I wonder if it is still in mine.  Maybe it doesn't have to be. If we can see the beauty in a million moments that flow together.  Just like the orange drops of light twinkling across the Utah Plateau, or the smile of someone we have waited a long time to see.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Heartfelt Apology


Dear __________,

This is a letter that is long overdue.  I honestly didn’t realize how much my actions had impacted you and how my lack of awareness resulted in me saying and doing things that were hurtful.  That this went on for so long is just a sign of how much I needed to grow and mature and become more self-confident. I placed unrealistic expectations, over-the-top demands, and unfair judgments onto your actions.  I punished you for trying and failing—and for succeeding. But now, in the face of new lessons learned, old lessons reinforced, and in the midst of a renewing Christmas Spirit I need to say how sorry I am for how I hurt you.  Sorry for how I abdicated my role as an emotionally mature and stable to adult to outside forces and for the manner in which I reacted rather than observed and used words like wrong or unfair or guilt or shame when I should have stayed silent and just watched without reaction. 


I have always had a suspicion that my efforts to grow would lead me to this action.  They say somewhere in one of those famous steps you are supposed to write letters of apology to those you have hurt.  I understand now why that is such an important step, but also why it is so difficult.  Even to know that you need to is the product of experiences and learning and crying and feeling so lost in the blackness that you wonder if there will ever again be light, much less a way out. 

However, even in the books, they do not tell you to whom the first letter apology is owed. They cannot tell you.  That is a realization which must be lived. It can only be known in those places in your heart and soul where you feel truth.  The places the poet touches or the cello player in a cathedral or that are seen in the deep blue lingering flame of a Christmas Candle.  It is in those caverns where the stalactites are records of ancient truths known but forgotten.  Truths that reveal that the person we harm so greatly—the person who we punish more often and more harshly than any other—is ourselves. 

It is only our own light that we so often snuff out for a moment or a lifetime in the face of fear and sadness and longing.  It is only our own lamp over which we throw a sheet, hoping the neighbors don’t notice the cobwebs and the debris and the decay.  It is only our own potential that we wrap in paper and hide in the back of the freezer like stolen gains of a long ago bank heist.  But, if we are lucky we come to learn that our light is not meant to be hidden.  If we are to be true to who we are—whose we are—our light must be allowed to fill up our own house and be shared with the world.

Only then, when we accept these truths can we know the purpose we have and the role we must fulfil.  Only then will we feel—in those corners of our soul—the most important message of all:  “I may be hurt, but I am not harmed”—lost from our childhood is the lesson that the monsters under the bed are not real.  Instead of living through that power, we too often move the monster out from under the bed into every other part of our lives.  And, fearing that we shall be destroyed or disappointed, we try so very hard to hide from all the places the monster may lie. Slowly, our worlds become full of monsters—and the tsunami of fear overflows everything in its path—most of all—peace.  So whenever we think we are in the midst of the thing that will do us harm- we defend, we “fight” and we react—just the same as the five year old at the parent’s door begging to not have to return alone to the scary blackness of his room. Little does he know how much he will laugh in later years at the story, or how we will repeat the same actions in different ways while wearing a suit and tie with framed souvenirs of success on his walls.  Only the names of the monsters really change. 

Why can the monsters not harm us—whether five or thirty five?  Whether under the bed, in the boardroom or sitting across from us on valentine’s day ending a relationship that never existed in the first place? Because none of it matters.  Not one single solitary bit.  Does that make it right that someone is rude or insensitive—no.  Does it make it okay they use you or don’t call you back or that they will never treat you the way you deserve.  No. But it is something we cannot change. The only hope we can have is to change our reaction to it.  If we latch on and cling to the injury the wound will never heal.  If we let it pass over us like the crashing wave, stop the fight and the bitter longing for control, we will bob along till the next one, and all those after.  And maybe, we will create an environment in which our awareness and the other persons can grow.  Either way, to fight and claw and stammer and stop has no good outcome, no matter what monster, no matter what age. 

But, whom do we punish most of all with our reactive, judging selves.  Our inability to let go. The answer has been this year’s greatest Christmas Gift.  To learn that I have punished myself far too harshly, judged my actions—built my own castle of shame.  Failed to love who I must love first.  And from that unwise step, I have set myself up for so many tragedies, big and small.  The stories of legend.  Not of a superhero saving the kingdom.  But of a king who nearly burned his own castle down, without so much as single arrow from the black knight to show for the battle. 

I suppose I do owe an apology or thank you to more than a few other people.  I was often too demanding in my expectations, especially when their awareness was different than mine.  When their actions failed to meet my expectations, rather than show love, I reacted—hurt and wounded like a sorry animal.  Rather than open and observant like a human.  I am learning now.  I will try to do better.  But to those of you who pushed me along the path, I must also say that I am not saying I was wrong for not ending up with you. I was only unwise in how I reacted to the lesson and experience you offered.  Perhaps if I had been different, things would have turned out different.  Or, perhaps, if you had acted differently, been more understanding with me, then things would have been different.  Who knows?  For the past, is past. 

In this moment I am focused on myself.  On forgiving me for what I have done.  Trying to move forward in a place of peace and awareness and looking at things much more simply.  Does it help me be the better me, then it is something I should do or continue.  If it does not, then I must let it go.  That is what our life requires—to clean out the junk and the clutter of our heart and spirit so that the sun may shine in and so that we may shine out. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why?

Many of you are aware that I was recently promoted to the rank of Deputy Director, Fire Dispatch Operations, FDNY.  You may also be aware of my passion for helping to develop, and improve the profession that is public safety communications.  However, it would seem to be that, as a leader, in my own agency, I have failed to sufficiently express to some why it is I was so honored to accept this position of leadership and just what I hope to accomplish in my new role. 

If the rumor mill is to be believed, I am in some person's eyes here to sell the soul of our proud organization to the likes of APCO and NENA.  Much in the same way horrid way American soldiers sometimes march under the UN flag.  To others, I am only here to boost myself, on the backs of those who came before or whom I work with now.  To still others, I am only about making efforts to merge us with NYPD and EMS to wipe away the last remnants of what once was. 

That is only a partial list of what I have heard.  And I am over the initial feeling of pain and anger when I became so aware. But it speaks to the challenge that is my role.  The nature of many to fear all things new, or ideas that are misunderstood.  It screams at our human abilities of assumption and judgment rather than communication and discussion.  And, more importantly, it flies in the face of a history that reveals quite clearly what I feel about the agency I work for and those I work with.  But ignoring history is nothing new for far too many.  Operating from positions of distrust, disunity, and dissension is the norm for far too many.  I knew it when I accepted.  I know it now. 

In this format, I wish to answer a question that I have never answered before.  Most will never read this.  But, in truth, it is not for them.  It is for me. 

I am in the role I am in now because I believe that we, as members of the FDNY Bureau of Communications represent much of the best of what a Dispatching Agency can be.  By our efforts we have shown time and time again that professional fire dispatchers can handle nearly any event with effective precision, even if that event is unanticipated. 

But I also know that we are hurting.  No PTSD counseling after Sandy.  No plan to manage the next Sandy.  Facilities that do not meet our needs.  Training and Supervision that do not live up to standards.  Policies and Procedures that do not address the challenges we face.  A workforce that is dispirited, dismayed, and disillusioned after years of change that was not managed well if at all.  The times have changed for our organization.  The environment has changed.  The challenges have changed.  We are just as likely to oversee the response to a building collapse or major emergency as we are a major fire.  And that has not been reflected anywhere in our behavior as an organization.

I see these realities everyday when I go to work and everyday when I watch the news.  Every day when I read about other agencies failing to meet the same challenges and the immense costs of those failures.  These are not invented.  They are not imagined.  They are the after effect of a bureaucracy that looses sight of it mission; a workforce that is undervalued; and a fire department that too often sees Dispatchers in the same category as payroll clerks and managers. 

I want to help change that.  Not later, not in  year, not in a decade: but now. 

There are tools out there to help change that culture.  To help us meet those challenges.  They are found in the lessons from other agencies. In the training and support offered by our professional associations.  In the experiences of our own storied past, from 9/11 to the War Years, to everything in between. 

The women and men of our agency deserve better.  They deserve an agency that blends the best of the old, with the best of those that are here; with the best of what can and should be.  It is my hope to help others see what we can be.  To begin to see what we do as a calling, as a profession, and, by living up to and expressing that vision, teach others to see us in the same light.

We will not achieve greatness as an organization by being smaller versions of ourselves.  By accepting the limitations that have been imposed.  By no longer lighting the desire of passion for being a dispatcher in our newest employees, or keeping the cauldron lit in those that have been on a while.  No, we are at a breaking point.  The events of the last few years have left us battered and bruised and beaten down. 

But I know, from those who have inspired me, that this can be the beginning of something great.  Not because I or anyone else hand it out like so much hallowed candy to beggars in costume. No.  Because a group or proud and dedicated women and men decide that we will live up to and beyond our reputation.  That we will overcome the doubters inside and outside our organization.  That we will not accept what we have been given. 

It begins with each individual taking responsibility for their actions.  And, as a group, taking responsibility for us all.  We speak so often of being a team.  But so quickly put others down.  Say-- That wasn't my fault.. that was his or hers.  Well, are we a team or aren't we?  Are we accountable to each other for what we do?  For how we are?  For how we treat each other.  Too much of the past few years has been not degrading comments from outside-- but from inside.  If we want a better future-- this must stop-- NOW.  For we are all in this together.  And the person you may dislike personally, may be the person that catches a huge mistake and saves us all, or a member of the public.  In truth, each black eye we obtain is not a result of a failure of the one, but of the many.  We are not here to make the best of friends with everyone we know.  Like a firehouse, we are here to be a family.  Looking out for each other. making sure we succeed.  Together.  Always.  If you don't see that thought.  If you don't feel that in the organization. Then your first job is to create that feeling:  In yourself.  It will then carry out into others until we again express the highest ideals of team-work, accountability, resilience, and dedication.  Until those are true for all of us, we are just Lone Rangers corralled into the same tent. And we will fall at every outside effort to tear us down or divide us. 

Something better than that.  Dedication to the public and to each other. Pride in our efforts and our abilities. Accountability for our results (good and bad) and genuine Love for our bother and sister dispatchers.   That is what I want to inspire in each and every soul I work with.  It is also the vision I have for our entire community of Public Safety Communications.  Plain and simple.  Its what I believe.  Its what I get up in the morning. 

You may hate it, you may disagree with it.  Which is obviously your right.  However, I too have a right and an obligation.  Which is to ask you, if not my vision, what is yours?  Is it something we can work through together to understand perhaps different sides to the same coin.  Or is it just holding on to tired beliefs, and immature mindsets.  Is it just saying no out of fear.  Or out of jealously?  

Whatever the results.  However the vision is created, we have learned together that it must be something that brings us forward.  Something that allows us to grow.  As an agency, as an industry, as a passion, and as a profession.  For anything else is what you claim to fear the most.  Death.  Of something you claim to love so much.  The choice is not mine.  I have chosen.  The choice is yours.  Come along on the ship.  Help to steer it.  Help us make a better way.  Or chose to stay safe on the shore.  I know where I will be and, more importantly, I know I will never, ever be alone.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lucy and the Football

I have done this before. 
It is a feeling I am familiar with. 
I can see the ball.
Its......right........there.  
So inviting. 
But somehow, its fuzzy-- not quite clear. 
I suppose that is the expected result
Of all the times before 
When the glass was chipped or stained or just neglected. 
But I can squint...just...enough. 
Maybe I do not even see it for real. Maybe I just feel it there.  Twenty or so feet away. 
May as well be another hemisphere.  
But... Once pavlovs dogs howl you no longer have a choice in the matter. 
And you are compelled to try.  Hard as you can to make it different. 
To ensure an outcome unlike the last one, or the one before, or the one before that. Or like that entire page in the planner that read 1999.
So I run.
And I fall. 
The topic doesnt even much matter. For the running and the falling are the same. 
The concept just as painful and the bruise just as deep. 
I dust myself off. 
Search about for the bottle...
Advil or stronger.  Maybe both. 
And I think to myself that there are not too many balls left to kick.  Or maybe there arent too many reasons to try. 
I shake my head. 
Blame myself as I always do. 
Head in hands on the bench. 
No winning field goal kicked. 
Wondering if the ball was ever there in the first place. 
So scared... Too scared... To even think for a minute that it is, perhaps, the games that play me. And not me them. 
I look at the grass stains, the polyp on the ultrasound, the stress pounds above my waistband, the wagging judging fingers questioning my every move, every dream. 
And I just have to wonder about what happens.
When Charlie Brown finally says no. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

November Sidewalk

They had long since cascaded down to the sidewalk.
This early February wind was overkill.
The leaves knew their place now was not in the branches,
that their time had passed.
The entire journey is so very short. 
From the first speck of green,
to the noisy hard blown ride on the concrete
it was only a matter of months. 
Ours is so much the same. 
From inception to peak to fall,
in a time that is mere moments to the world.
But everything to us. 
Along that journey we hope to make an impact,
a lasting impression. 
Forge some way of going beyond what we know to be our end.
We try treatments, surgeries; grow children and foundations.
We build and paint and write and plan.
We spend so much of our lives fighting the inevitable fall from the branch.
Religions, Gods, Hospitals, dreams-- all designed to soften that landing.
Or deny it. 
The pace along the avenue quickens,
the cold wind is battering now. 
I hunker into a ball, pull up the scarf to shield my face from this
much too soon arrival of winter's howl. 
But behind me those leaves continue, pushed across the asphalt and cobblestones.
Do they forget that this is the end?
Don't they realize that the best days have passed? 
That what will come is not the red and orange and green of their prime,
but an end that is certain and already started. 
I pause at the light on the corner, waiting to cross between the hurried people; hurried cabs and hurried frightened futures.
For a moment the neighborhood is silent and I can hear everything and nothing.   
And I swear from here,
It sounds like those leaves are dancing.

Six Months In...

It is hard to believe that six months ago I was offered and accepted promotion to the Rank of Deputy Director-- Fire Dispatch Operations FDNY.  It has been an interesting road so far.  I have to say most days it feels like I have not accomplished nearly as much as I set out to do.  At times, the combination of bureaucracy; fear of change; and lack of trust is like some horrid too thick clam chowder that threatens to swallow whole every thing it comes into contact with.  

I am certain all of my friends who have transitioned to ranks of leadership know this feeling.  Its kind of like being in an airplane at 30,000 feet versus watching the airplane from below.  The perception of movement is, indeed, very different. 

I have to force myself to remember that progress has been made.  We have or at least will have multiple certified supervisors and trainers in the coming months. The FDCAD Project is moving slowly to implementation.  Applications for programs are being written and FDNY officially sent an attendee for an APCO National Conference and Regional Conference for, I believe, the first time ever.  We have won awards from NENA and are planning the first Dispatcher Recognition Event for NPSTW in April 2014.  Beyond that, many of our problems and issues have been identified, steps are being taken (even if slowly), and things are being done. 

But there are lessons that remain to be learned and the experiences to go through on this path.  From being patient, to under-promising and over delivering, to always making sure to keep focus on the people that really matter.  There are so many lessons.  I am, most of all, thankful for the opportunity.  I know not where the future shall lead, but hopefully, with God's grace; the support of those in the FDNY Bureau of Communications; my fellow 9-1-1 Industry friends and colleagues; and a serious effort; I will leave my place (when that day comes) better than it found me. 

To those I work with.  Thank you for your support.  I know that change can be so many different things, none of which are easy or welcomed.  But we are an amazing group of people, talented beyond measure.  FDNY deserves to have-- the citizens of NYC should have-- the best Dispatchers in the world.  In many ways we are there, but there remains work to do.  And I thank you for your help in both creating that vision and making it a reality. 

The Journey Continues...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Coming out of the (Radio) Closet... Again

Every once in a while something happens, or a string of events occur, and you realize you must admit who you are.  It could be a rude comment from a family member, or a crass word from a stranger. Maybe it is hateful speech from a politician, or musician—or the latest rant from Eminem. At that moment, even if you have done so before, even if your entire life speaks to who you are openly and honestly, you sense a need to stand yet again on the highest peak and scream out what and who you are for all to hear yet again.  So, here it goes. 

I AM A DISPATCHER

Or Public Safety Communications Technician; or 9-1-1 person, or whatever you need to label me to make you feel better about what I do. I am NOT a career firefighter, EMT or Police Officer.   Unless you are one of the 500,000 or so people in this country that do this job, whether as a line dispatcher or a supervisor or a director or whatever—you DO NOT understand what we do.  You may come close.  You may believe that because you are a  1) Firefighter 2) COP  3) paramedic  you understand exactly what we do in the course of a shift, or a career. 

Let me ask you then—just because you eat at a wonderfully expensive steak house, does that make you a chef?  Or just because you play Call-of-Duty 32 does that mean the next time a war starts you will be the modern reincarnation of Sgt. York?  Or does spending hours on WebMd make you a heart surgeon?

The answer to these comparisons is—of course not.  Granted, we may have the same language—we may even use the same toys in the toy box.  The best dispatchers, and dispatch agencies, however, serve the PUBLIC FIRST—then the officers, firefighters, and EMTs of their agencies.  Here is why:  Your community may permit as many units as possible to add themselves to calls that sound good.  Why have three engines going to a fire when six may think they should go?  Why have an officer respond to one call when she or he may wish to go to the one that sounds better.  Ask any dispatcher about this—and she or he will cringe.  Ask them about prioritizing calls, resource management, and making tough decisions—and they know intrinsically how crucial it is.  Some departments don’t even permit dispatchers to check availability of units when nearby calls come in, or swap units on runs when they are closer to each other’s calls. Even worse, some agencies let the units run the show—adding, swapping and changing assignments in some sort of P25 digital anarchy. 

Dispatchers—real dispatchers—know the power of the word NO and of thinking and of decision making. They know why these are the most important tool we have.  They know why even with technology we have to know the areas we serve, the challenges and hazards of the community, and the real policies that are followed when it is just too damn busy to “follow the cards”.  Real dispatchers must worry about the calls that already happened; the calls that are happening, and the ones that will happen in the future.  We can never just take it one at a time. If you take that approach, then you are not a dispatcher.  You are merely a human conveyer belt. 

But that is how the responders in the field MUST manage things.  They have to focus on where they are—when they are or they will not be able to operate safely.  That ability—to think in multiple dimensions is only one of the distinctive characteristics of the dispatching profession. It also highlights why being a dispatcher IS a profession—for it requires a unique set of skills, knowledge and abilities that experiences sharpen into an ability on the part of the dispatcher to creatively manage unforeseen or unplanned events.  This is not to lessen anyone else in the public safety world—each badge has its own elements that make it unique and special and important.   The idea that just because you can do the job in the field you can automatically do the job in the communications center (or vice-versa) is a bigger myth than the tooth fairy, far less fun, and far more dangerous.

No one should ever diminish what happens before the first tone goes off or after the first unit arrives on that other side of the radio.  I have no desire to be a career firefighter, or a career cop, or a career paramedic.  The best agencies in our world—and the best members of our community—highlight why.  Because what we do is a calling and profession in and off its self.  Separate from, but a part of law enforcement, the fire Service, and the world of EMS. 

So, the next time someone calls you “just a dispatcher” or a member of your agency exposes themselves as just a firefighter or cop or paramedic wanna-be—just politely smile and acknowledge to yourself just how much he or she doesn’t get it.  And never miss the chance to come out of your own dispatcher closet to share with those who are willing to learn—or who need to learn—just what it means to say we are the “First-First Responders.”  Or  what it means when we say we are:

Dispatchers.