Alston: You Can Get There from Here

"You just need to believe in what you want to achieve, have a destination, and have a plan on how to get there."

During the FDIC 2021 International Opening Ceremony Day 2 on Thursday, August 5, in Indianapolis, Chief John Alston of the New Haven (CT) Fire Department spoke on “You Can Get There from Here.”

“Do you ever wonder where some of the great achievements in the world came from?

Who had the vision? Who had the courage? Who had the perseverance to see those projects through? The world is filled with big dreams achieved by those who had a vision and took the first step to achieve that vision.

“Consider the Wright brothers who, frankly, new more about bicycles than they did aeronautics. They had no instructor or training, no pilot’s license. There was no flight school or Air Force Academy. There wasn’t even an airport or a runway.

Photos by Tony Greco.

“They had no one in their corner or to cheer them on. In fact, their own father turned his back on them and said, ‘If God had meant for man to fly, He would have given him wings!’ Come to think of it, they didn’t even have a landing strip. What they did have was a dream and yet, with little support, they are credited with inventing, building, and flying the first successful airplane in our nation.

“What about you? Do you ever ask yourself, What if? What if I could write a book? What if I could speak a foreign language? What if I could become a teacher or mentor a child? What if I could do the next great thing for my community or industry? What dreams are there lying in the recesses of your mind? What dreams have you left on the table because you either didn’t think they were worthy or you didn’t think you could achieve them?

“I was born in 1960. I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, and lived around the corner from Engine 8 on Ege Avenue. Back in those days, the ’60s, fire departments were very busy in the inner cities and when I was four years old, I used to watch them pass by my house. I mean, what little boy or girl doesn’t love a big red or, as I have come to love, white fire truck? The men on those trucks would always wave and smile at me, and I wanted to be just like them. In fact, I used to cry when the fire truck passed my house until one day they pulled up out front and asked my mother

If I could ride around the corner with them. Wow! I was bitten by the bug for which there is no cure, bitten by the bug to become a firefighter.

“It was my dream and became all I wanted to do. There was no cure until I made that dream come true. And I stand before you today with the heart of that same four-year-old boy still enmeshed in that dream–the desire to make a difference in my community and help save the world as part of a proud team of men and women who fight the good fight. 

“So, why am I here with you today? Because that initial dream evolved into something more.

“The title of my talk today is ‘You can get there from here.’ What do I mean by that?

I wanted to be a firefighter. I didn’t see myself as an instructor or believe I could be a chief officer and, I assure you, I had plenty of others who didn’t see it or could believe it in me either.

“Dreams don’t die unless you let them. Even when you achieve a dream, it’s not like you check a box and put that baby to bed. The desires that lie deep within your heart evolve and change into new dreams.

“For instance, my dream didn’t end the moment I put on this badge. In fact, when Chief Halton offered me the chance to teach, a new dream was born. And before I knew it, I was being encouraged to take classes and sign up for additional training.

“Little did I know that over time, I was being prepared. I was being asked to step up and do more in our industry. And quickly, my dream of becoming a firefighter had evolved into something even greater–helping to mold and lead the next generation of firefighters. That’s what dreams do. They change as you change. Because, honestly, standing on this stage and attempting to inspire you to become more than you ever imagined you could be is certainly not what I thought I’d be doing. My dream was to ride on that fire truck and fight fires.

“So, what’s my point? All dreams start in your heart and in your mind. If you have a dream, something you’ve always wanted to do, to learn or even to become, there’s only one way to get there, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

“I have five points I want to give you:

First, believe your dream is possible No negative thinking here. Believe it, and you can achieve it.

“Second, clarify it in your mind. What is it that you want? You need to be able to see it and feel it in your heart, almost taste it, before you begin and be prepared to get out of your comfort zone. Every journey begins with a destination. Know what your destination is.

“Third, once you are clear about your goal, you’ll need to develop a plan. Yep. You’re going to have to work for it, and don’t expect it to be easy. If it were easy to attain, you’d have already done it by now.

“Fourth, once you’re there, once you’ve achieved what you strived for, remember to lift up the persons behind you and the people around you. This is no small part of success at all–the part where you get to lead the way for the next person, the next generation.

“Fifth, once you’ve reached that summit, don’t take it for granted. Success can be a fleeting fantasy that leaves you in its wake pretty quickly. Keep feeding the dream by acknowledging the people who gave you a hand and finding ways to give back to your community. The world needs more dreamers and doers, so be one for you, for your family, for your community, and our profession. After all, you’ve all achieved a certain level of success just by sitting in this room. This was no small feat.

“So, in closing, you CAN get there from here … whatever and wherever your there is. You can get there from here. You just need to believe in what you want to achieve, have a destination, have a plan on how to get there and never give up, lift up the people around and behind you, and don’t rest on your laurels. There is always more work to be done.”

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