John R. Kowalski Integrative Marketing Fusion

LOVFD Open House & Community Day

Yesterday at the fire hall we had an open house and community day. The goal was to make visible, not only the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department, but also our emergency service partners that serve our community.

Volunteer Fire Service – Critical Condition

The volunteer fire service in the United States is in crisis. Small rural communities are struggling to keep pace with the growing demand for their services, while at the same time facing a decline in the number of people available to serve as volunteers.

Volunteerism & Service – FF1 Complete

Good morning. As I reflect on this past week of a training coming to an end and a celebration of Firefighter I certification I keep coming back to the terms volunteerism and service. That is what it’s all about for volunteer firefighters. Serving and protecting your community. Helping people in need on their worst days.

Here is the text of my speech (part of it a repeat from my departments 2018 award dinner):

What a long road this has been. We started in August and I feel we could’ve spent a month on every topic. But this is the beginning. This was about foundations that we can build upon moving forward through ongoing learning and training.

As far as this speech… I keep coming back to one I made at my departments awards dinner as I think it fits this event as well.


This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.

We are members of a unique and special brother and sister-hood that goes back centuries to ancient Rome and even before that in ancient Egypt.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London helped standardize firefighting. In America, George Washington, the future President was a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company. Benjamin Franklin was also a volunteer firefighter helping to create the first fire department in Philadelphia in 1736.

The first known female firefighter Molly Williams took her place with the men on the drag ropes during the blizzard of 1818 and pulled the fire water pump to the fire through deep snow.

The first organized municipal fire brigade in the world was established in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment was formed in 1824. London was formed 9 years later in 1833.

The fire service is rich with history.

Firefighters have been helping communities and engaging in charitable causes through generations. An early example is firefighter Royal Tunbridge Wells. He helped raise money for widows and orphans. He used his dog ‘Jack’ and cat ‘Arthur’ to help encourage donations.

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Speaking personally, I joined after the Gatlinburg fires… after our mountain, Signal Mountain was on fire. I still remember driving with my family on Highway 153 towards the mountain and seeing the plumes of smoke. Our mountain was on fire. At that moment I had to help. Not just something to do but a deeper calling from within. To help my family, to help my community. To protect us all. I am a protector. Maybe 6 or 8 months after that… I remember Lt. Clift say to me, “You’ve got the fire bug. I see it.” He was right. And that bug burns hotter now than ever. I’ve taken many classes, received certifications and completed the Firefighter I program. I plan to attend training, conferences and seminars. I’m also working on transitioning my career to help fire service organizations (but that’s another story for another time). I am a protector and part of the fire service and part of the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department.

Why are you here? Why are you part of the fire service?

Regardless of the fire service history and changes through the years and the reasons on why we are here. There is one constant thing that will never change. Courage, Compassion and Community.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family. We are here to help our community. We are here to be an integral part of our community. And when I talk of this, I don’t mean just the members. I’m talking about everyone in this room – our families. They give to and help our community. They share us. When the call comes in the middle of the night or when we’re just sitting down to dinner, they share us and give to our community too. Thank you to my wife Brynne and daughter Sofia, and all of our families from the bottom of my heart.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.


So here I am with my new brothers and sisters. Our fire family. We made it to this point. We are here. Together. We have learned from the skills, knowledge and mistakes of our instructors. We learned that Fire is Hot. We studied, laughed, argued. All the things that brothers and sisters do. But we came together… eventually… as a team. We made it together and are now standing here in the proud tradition of the fire service.

I want to thank Rip, Jody and Nick. For their instruction, direction… patience… head-shaking… eye-rolling… all of it… Thank you sincerely from all of us.

A big thank you to Director Adams for his leadership, expertise and assistance. And to all the adjunct instructors who came down and gave their time to help us learn.

And the biggest thank you goes to our families. They have shared us. For the time away training and studying. For coming home exhausted with no energy for anything. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know it hasn’t been easy, so thank you.

In addition to the certifications I was awarded the prestigious Shane Daughette Award. Since firefighter Shane Daughettee’s death, this award is given to a fire graduate who demonstrates great leadership, attitude and dedication throughout the duration of Firefighter I class. This is truly an honor.

Here is a video presentation that the training team PIO put together showing some of our training moments. Enjoy!

State Testing, Ongoing Learning

Well… tomorrow’s the day I have my state practicals and exam for FF1 certification. It’s been a long road for me (and my family) that began in August. It seems long but the sheer volume of information and training was concentrated. We could’ve spent a month easily on any of the areas we covered. That’s why ongoing learning is always going to be a part of me and should be for every firefighter out there. To keep not only themselves safe but also their team and communities.

We had some ups and downs as a team but came together. We learned, sweated, laughed and crammed our heads with as much knowledge as humanly possible. So on this day just before testing I’m feeling confident. Casually reviewing my study notes, tying my knots and flipping through my workbook.

Here we go!

Protecting Volunteers’ Day Jobs

One of the lieutenants at fire school sent this article onto me.

What are your thoughts on this? I know myself holding a day job when tones go out can be a bit tricky. My particular situation has flexibility but at times I’ve been finishing conference calls on the way to a scene and even shuffling things around due to personal reasons. I can only imagine those with jobs that you’re unable to leave and are simply stuck. With the US fire service made up of 73% volunteer departments this is truly an important issue.

Job activities can always be made up later with the priority above all being public safety. It’s good to see bills like this in Texas seeing the light of day. Take a look here.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences with juggling fire service and jobs?

Your Actions Represent the Brotherhood

Just this morning my wife had an unfortunate incident on a road near our home. The W Road down the mountain is a winding road with a good incline. She was following a truck loaded with stuff going slower than the speed limit. She remained about 3 car-lengths behind through the narrow curves. On one of the few straight-aways the truck put on his blinker and pulled to the shoulder as much as he could and slowed down even more as if he were wanting her to pass. She hesitated to make sure, he slowed even more so that’s what she believed he wanted her to do, so then she passed safely.

Upon reaching the truck and ready to wave a “thank you,” she was greeted with an angry man rolled down his window and started yelling obscenities. As much as he didn’t understand what she was doing or his actions miscommunicated to her to pass is there any real reason for this anger at a total stranger? What if she had been going to the hospital with a sick or injured child? My wife is the kindest, most loving and caring person you would ever meet. My response, upon first hearing this and to know that she was shaken from this event was to first lash out. “What an asshole! What’s his fuckin’ problem?” How hard must it be to go through life at that…. such anger at 10am. To live in that anger must be hell. But that’s not the end of the story, not the end of this incident.

She then said to me, “You know your firefighter license plate? The one on your car?” I replied, “yes.” She then continued, “He had that same plate. The same firefighter plate as you.” Then my heart sunk. This was one of my brothers acting like this. Representing all of us brothers and sisters bound together in the fire service. This action is a stain on all of us. We are better than this. We represent our departments, our brotherhood and the Maltese cross we bear.

When we wear a shirt, jacket, hat or vehicle decal, we represent something larger than us. A higher set of standards that meets our calling to help. Our actions speak to the public and our communities whether on or off duty. Be the high standard the public expects. Be the high standard that honors the brotherhood.

Listen to John on 5-Alarm Task Force

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Greene of the 5-Alarm Task Force podcast and Dalmatian Productions. We discussed my philosophy and approach to fire hall and emergency service marketing and all of its aspects – image and perception, program planning, community education, fundraising and grant writing, membership and more.

Listen now, enjoy and share with your friends and colleagues today!