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I recently had the opportunity to watch the Valparaiso Fire Department Honor Guard participate in a competition at a Fire Department Instructor’s Conference in Indianapolis. While sitting there, I realized the Honor Guard embodies everything that is wonderful about the fire service: discipline, honor and tradition.

Having recently celebrated my 20-year anniversary as a member of the Valparaiso Fire Department, I thought about the word "tradition." I considered what it means to me and — more important — what it means to the fire service. Traditions can be time honored and meaningful cornerstones of a profession or a way of life. They can, conversely, fade away into decades past and be lost to future generations.

I knew 20 years ago that the traditions and history of the fire department were part of what attracted me to this great career, as they do for so many. I also confess that, for many years, I failed to share the past with the current generation — until now.

The Valparaiso Fire Department has been around for 150 years. This is something we’re extremely proud of, but we have long been reluctant to celebrate our traditions within our department.

Failing to recognize our past and those who came before us left us with something of an identity crisis. We focused on the future — and in doing so, relegated our history to a dusty and forgotten corner. We have been working hard to remedy this, and I invite you to stop by any of our stations to see the ways in which we’ve resurrected the past.

You may ask, 'What are some traditions within the Valparaiso Fire Department?' Many come to mind: wetting down the apparatus, the instantly recognizable “fire engine red” color of the trucks, the long-gone but fondly remembered fire dogs and horses. Among these fine examples lurk a couple of outliers — traditions that belong to history and no longer have a place in the present. One such practice was a tendency to be territorial, to place pride above teamwork, to isolate from surrounding resources. Thankfully, the firefighters of today have adopted a new culture and no longer consider themselves on an "island." We strive for cooperation and community.

Philanthropist Stewart McMillan recognized the need to come together. He had an idea that things should be different — that every department should lower the drawbridge and embrace each others' abilities. His vision has taken form in the Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative. The MAAC enables different departments to share ideas and train together for the common good of the fire service.

This approach strengthens our response while increasing professionalism and enhancing safety. I can’t wait for the Valparaiso Fire Department to be part of this amazing cooperative. To learn more about the MAAC and its offerings, please visit www.maacfoundation.com.

I encourage every fire department to dive into its history. I guarantee that great traditions are hidden within, which in turn need to be passed on to the next generation.

We are the caretakers of this knowledge, and it is through this channel that the pride and ownership of the department are handed down to those who will see it safely into the next century.

Chad Dutz is chief of the Valparaiso Fire Department. The opinions are the writer's.

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