I hope that since the holiday season has passed us and as we begin year 2023, that all reading this article had a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and quality time was spent with family and friends. If not, take the time to do so. Life is too short to have any regrets.
Please keep those members struggling with medical and other issues in your thoughts and prayers as those individuals negotiate treatment and advice to deal with those issues.
First, I want to say how humbled and honored I am to be writing this article as this Association’s 41st President. Never in my wildest dreams if someone would have said back in 1976 when I started my fire service career that I would be in this position today, I would have said “you’re crazy”. But here I am 47 years later into this journey and ready to take on this responsibility head on, wholeheartedly and lead this Association as your President.
Second, I want to take this opportunity to thank outgoing President David Israel for his wisdom, leadership, mentorship, and friendship over the last three years while serving as Vice President. David truly has a servant’s heart. I want to wish David and Peggy all the best as David transitions into the role as Chairman of the Board for the Association.
Now, I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself, my family and how I got to this point in my life. I was born in Tipton County to parents, John and Pauline Liston. I was raised in Atlanta, Indiana, a small town of 700 friendly people and a few old soreheads in northern Hamilton County, also known for the Town’s New Earth Festival each September. I have a sister, Debbie, who is three years younger and much smarter than me, just ask her and I am sure she will tell you so. I am a graduate of Hamilton Heights High School’s Class of 1976. My wife’s name is Maureen, we have been married for 29 years and together we have two beautiful, smart, and creative daughters, Emilee, and Brenna and four spoiled fur babies, Zoey, Bo, Seger and Sloane. I am known for being a “simple man” and if you do not believe me just ask the girls. I am sure both will agree.
The last forty years I have been employed by Hamilton County in the Surveyor’s Office as a drainage inspector.
Now on to my real passion (other than my family)! My fire service career began, as I mentioned earlier, in March of 1976 when I was accepted onto the Atlanta Volunteer Fire Department, where my father was the Fire Chief, as a probationary firefighter. In my forty-seven years, I have served not only on the Atlanta Volunteer Fire Department, but the Cicero Fire Department and White River Township Fire Department too, all departments being in northern Hamilton County.
This is a quick look at my personal and professional life, and my experience in fire and emergency services. I hope this small snapshot helps you trust me with the reigns of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association for the next year.
One goal as President is to continue to execute and direct the mission of this Association and be fully transparent in doing so. My Officers and Committees will be working to continually pursue what is best for this Association and more importantly yet, for the volunteer and combination fire and emergency personnel across our great State.
Since July of 2022, President Israel, and the leadership of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, along with our Lobbyist Larry Curl has conducted roundtable meetings, 11 in all, across all six public relations areas of our State. The intent for these meetings was to discuss the Cost Savings Study, but more importantly, to show our members and invited state elected officials what the Indiana volunteer fire service saves the taxpayers of Indiana annually.
That figure amount is an unbelievable 4.5 billion dollars. Yes, you heard me right, 4.5 billion dollars annually by providing the services we do.
Initially, the main topics of discussion were Recruitment and Retention, Funding, and Training. Later in those meetings Health and Wellness, along with Communications were added to the discussion list. Now is the time we start engaging and working with our local and state elected officials to capitalize on the success of those meetings across the State and to improve the conditions and benefits for our members and we will.
I will focus on Communications briefly. I have seen, heard, and come to realize, as an Association, we struggle with getting information out to our members in a time effective manner. The days of throwing a letter or packet in the mail is obsolete, slow, and in-effective. Like it or not, social media is here to stay, and our younger members demand faster notification practices.
Social Media is a tool Individuals, Associations, Organizations and yes, Fire Departments can use to build goodwill and share pertinent information across the different platforms. An important goal of mine will be to improve these lines of communication by identifying what types of social media platforms are available, especially those being utilized by the younger members of the Association.
Health and Wellness of firefighters is a hot topic of discussion today, especially the mental health of firefighters. Most emergency responders have a mind set to be calm, levelheaded, and able to face even the most challenging situation with courage. The fire service has built the stigma that it was not allowed to see someone on mental issues they were just told to tough it up and forget the bad things and move on. However, we are all human and it is easier said than done. We see many volunteers’ experiencing PTSD, anxiety, depression and having suicidal thoughts. Let us be supportive and understanding where everyone is aware of the warning signs within themselves and each other. Also, an important part of talking it out you must be ready to listen and support them.
In closing, I would like to take a minute to talk about Pride in the fire service. It is a lot more than just a badge and t-shirt. The fire service is built on Pride and Tradition. It is a privilege to be a firefighter and to serve our communities but sometimes it seems that many have forgotten what the fire service stands for today. The fire service has never been about the individual firefighter, it is about the communities we serve and the fire service as a whole. The fire service is one of the most loved services because the citizens know we will put those in need above our own wellbeing. That is the public image our forefathers built and that is what we need to protect and build upon. Pride should be at the center of everything a firefighter does. We should have Pride in our appearance, Pride in our training, Pride in our ability to perform the duties the citizens expect. Pride is a driving force, and it is our responsibility as the leader of this generation to remind our young firefighters it is a privilege to be a firefighter and a lifestyle not to be tarnished. So, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard. Take Pride in everything you do, and the community will take Pride in you.
For recruitment and retention, remember how you were treated as a new member of your department. Were you treated with respect and mentored or with malice and disdain? Think about what would have made that time better and treat your new members that way.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the IVFA, please feel free to call or drop me or any officer a line. Our contact information is on the website at www.ivfa.org or in the quarterly newspaper.