Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Integrity, or "doing the right thing when no one else is looking" is a topic that came up last night while I was working my Security gig. Not in the sense you might thing though. This particular example of integrity surprised the crap out of me and taught me something about myself.

I got a call to go deal with a crazy lady who was refusing to leave the hotel lobby where I work. When I got there, I find a 60 something year old lady, normal looking (clean), well dressed (didn't smell like sweat and bum juice), etc. She has two bags, one of them was a paper shopping bag, the other was a little red suitcase. I introduce myself and she instantly launches into a 1 minute run down of her life's problems, most notably, that the hotel won't let her "buy a room" for a few weeks so she can "get her family back together." I listened intently, nodding and agreeing as she talked. See, this isn't my first rodeo, I deal with lots of crazy people, lots of drunk people, and lots of homeless people, every night, so I'm fairly well versed in the "art" of talking to crazies.

After about 5 minutes of talking back and forth with this lady, she agreed to leave. She picked up her bags and walked out the door into the parking lot. This lot is poorly lit, no cameras, no people, and there isn't really anything out there. Basically, she exited out the wrong side of the lobby. So, I followed her outside to tell her that she should go the opposite direction if she's looking for somewhere to go or stay. As I approached her outside, she screamed at me to stop following her and took off running towards the bushes. I figured I'd give her a little space, especially since theres a big fence on the other side of the bushes, and she wasn't going very far. So, after a few minutes, I walked back over to where she had gone to try and direct her back towards civilization. As I approached the bushes, I pulled out my flashlight and lit up the ground around the bushes, looking to see if I could see her feet or see her sitting down somewhere. I couldn't find her, but I did find the paper shopping bag she had been carrying. I walked up to it and looked inside, all I saw was a bunch of papers, mostly what appeared to be old bills and notes (pretty common with mentally unstable people, seems they keep this kind of stuff for comfort). I called in on my radio that I'd lost track of the lady, but that I found one of her bags. I said that it appeared to be full of trash, so I'd be tossing it in the garbage on my way back.

As I was walking back, something about it just made me feel like I should try harder to find this lady. So, I walked back over to where I'd just looked, and decided to look again. After about another minute, I kind of got bored and frustrated and decided to look in the bag again to see if there was anything in it that would identify her so I could call her by name. As I moved the bills and notes scribbled on pieces of cardboard around in this bag, I saw a big wad of cash. Like, half an inch thick, wad of cash. So I say to myself, "hmmm." So I pulled a huge stack of crap out of her bag and looked in the bottom to see if there was anything else inside. There were 2 more big wads of money, looked like it was mostly twenties with a few fifties and small bills mixed in. It was really weird. Not just because this lady had probably three thousand dollars in the bottom of a shopping bag full of trash, but because she had made the effort to hide it, yet she left it behind.

So here I am, standing in a dark parking lot, all by myself, no cameras around, no crazy lady, and I'm holding a "bag of trash" with a couple grand in it. Now, as with anyone else, I have financial problems, I never seem to make enough to really get ahead on anything, and I'm always finding new stuff that I desperately wish I could buy (right now I'm dreaming of an iPad). Yet none of this crossed my mind. Two things entered my mind, the first one was FOOLS, and the second was "I gotta find this chick and get her her stuff back." Now, you're probably wondering why the FOOLS organization popped into my head. Well, let me tell you. If you go to their website, you'll see a series of acronyms under their logo. A few months ago, I wrote them on the back of my notepad for work. I also wrote them on the underside of my baseball hat that I wear at the Fire Department. Anyone who is familiar with the organization will probably be able to guess where this is going. So, as I stand there, easily able to just put this stack of cash in my pocket, walk away and have a VERY good trip to Chicago next week, all that went through my head was "DTRT" or "Do The Right Thing." It was like it was second nature. It wasn't that I had a thought about keeping the money, and then my conscience kicked in and I changed my mind, it just didn't come up. It was as if "who I am" has changed from when I was younger, and I've become not only a better person, but someone who follows and lives by a code of ethics created by those who came before us.

See, the interesting thing is, I don't practice or observe any particular religion. I believe what I believe, do what I do, and that's how I live my life. I think most anyone would agree that a great deal of what you "take away" from religion is a code of ethics, a way of living your life day to day, a value system and a means of making decisions and dealing with problems. Well, I guess I could say that the values of the Fire Service are my religion in a way. Because as I found out last night, my values, decision making and my personal integrity, are based off of the same core fundamentals and values that make the Fire Service so strong, and the family so amazing. I can honestly say that 5 or 6 years ago, I would have stood there looking that money trying to decide what I should do, but today, I'm a different person. I've not only matured and grown, but I've found direction and influence in my life. Where some people find religion to guide them, I found the Fire Service to guide me. This is my purpose, and I will live for this purpose.

I hope that when you read this, you can relate to it in some way. Take a second to think about times when you were "tested," feel free to share them. I think it's very important that we all take the time to explain what our values, beliefs and fundamentals are to others, especially anyone in the Fire Service. But I think it's even more important to live them, and be an example of what a Firefighter is supposed to be, every minute of every day. My dad was telling a story over dinner the other night, a story about a Fireman who got arrested for DUI off duty. The news headlines read like this: "Firefighter arrested for DUI" "Firefighter arrested for driving drunk" "Firefighter arrested on DUI charges" and so on. Those sorts of headlines are damaging to the public image of all of us in some way, not because we are all like that, but because the public trusts us, and they look up to us. But when someone does something to violate that trust, well, it's sort of like the saying "1 oh shit wipes out 10 atta boys." We all need to remember that the difference between doing something stupid and getting arrested as an off duty Kroger cashier and as an off duty Firefighter is that listing our profession in the headline will catch EVERYONES attention.

Let's all just take a moment to remember that we set an example for how others will behave. Whether it's the yellow helmeted rook's, the kids that stop by the station, or the people that see us driving down the road WEARING OUR SEATBELTS, everyone is always looking at us. How can they not? They all wanted to be us when they were little.

So I guess the take away point of this blog today is this, find what drives you, what keeps you focused, what guides you through your decisions in life, and build on it. Share it with others, especially new people. We have no one to blame but ourselves if the new people don't share the same values we do. And remember, if you ever get lost, there's a great code to live by right at the top of the FOOLS homepage.


PS: After about another 10 minutes, I found the crazy lady and gave her her stuff back. She didn't even seem to notice that she'd lost it.


  1. So...did you help this woman to contact a family member, get a place to stay, or contact PD for social services perhaps?? She needs assistance of some sort before she gets robbed.

  2. I would be remiss if I didn't add that you did do the right thing in finding her and returning her money. You should feel good about that and I feel very proud of you for it. But sometimes and with some people it doesn't stop there. Compassion is part of it too. We never know if one day WE might become the crazy person hiding in the bushes.