Fire Chief Jonathan Riffe of Huntingtown VFD gives a passionate and personal speech to his community and colleagues, emphasizing the importance of self-reflection and commending his fellow firefighters on their performance and unique sacrifice for society.
I put a lot of time and thought into this year's speech and wasn't sure what to write about. I want to explain to you my thoughts and feelings on this department and the members that serve it.
"The vision of the Huntingtown VFD is to become the finest fire and EMS service organization possible by utilizing and developing our members to their fullest potential, maximizing our use of the resources available to us, and being responsive to the growth and changing needs of our community."
What does this mean to you? To me it means that us, the members of the department have to be fully capable, honest, trustworthy, caring, loving, and dedicated to the citizens. But it goes beyond that. How we treat the citizens we protect doesn't begin there. We strive on our image to the public. We etch into the members minds that when they are in public they must watch how they behave and how they speak because our image is what the children and adults expect when we respond at 3 am for their dying grandmother, when we respond to their house on fire or when we are extricating their child from a wrecked vehicle.
But I want to go further into this. We, as firefighters and EMT's shouldn't act like this only in public because of our image. It should be natural. Don't get me wrong; I'm one to speak on this matter. But how do you want people to remember you as a person? Seriously think about yourself as an individual. How do others perceive you?
Some of you may have heard a story similar to this. Try and clear your head and focus with me and really open your mind..................
In your mind's eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people, if any are even there, have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended-children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or fire department where you've been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?
If you participated in this visualization experience, you touched for a moment some of your deep, fundamental values. Each part of your life-today's behavior, tomorrow's behavior, next week's behavior, next month's behavior-can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you. Start with a clear understanding of your destination and the right direction to turn. If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they are doing things they think are important. This is because they are chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devoting yourself to your community around you and devoting yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
As firefighters and EMT's, remember that some of the good that you do will be recognized, but even good work that is recognized will often be forgotten. What is important is who you are as a person. What matters is how you live as a person.
Firefighters and EMT are unique individuals. We've seen many lives taken from unfortunate tragedies, violence that has gotten out of control, and held too many small children in our arms that will never laugh again. Because of this, we are not ordinary. We do jobs most people would never dare to do. For these reasons, all of you need to be commended.
The bible reads, "When you go through the sea, I am with you. When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you."
If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success. It may be very different from the definition you thought you had in mind.
In closing, I've been trying to do some soul searching for myself recently and how to be a better person. I need to apologize too many in this room; something I'm not good at; particularly when there are over 250 people in attendance. This past year had been rather difficult for me on a personal level. I hadn't been the person that many of you were used to. I separated myself from people and shut many out of my life. A few months ago though, I realized something needed to change. I needed to surround myself with people who I think have made a positive impact on my life and my true friends. Friends that loved me. I needed to find out who I was as a person and what life meant to me. Life is strange and I've learned a lot and have more to learn. I want to thank everyone that dealt with my attitudes and issues. I want to thank all of you for listening to me when I needed it most. Many of you know who you are; many of you I have thanked personally. One thing is certain though; life is short. I know what I want all of you to think of me or say about me at my funeral; hopefully years down the road. Thanks for listening and lending me your ears.