Get ready to ignite your curiosity with the latest episode of The Fire Inside Her podcast. Our captivating guest shares their own journey, from accidentally stumbling into the fire service to retiring with 53 years in the service after blazing new ground, receiving a doctorate, and publishing a book.
It’s not just about the heroic tales of bravery and danger. Our speaker also opens up about personal struggles, finding authenticity, and the profound impact of grief. With thought-provoking insights, heartfelt anecdotes, and a passion for risk reduction, this episode will leave you inspired, enlightened, and yearning to discover your own authentic self.
The title of his book, “I Can’t Save You and Don’t Want Die Trying: American Fire Culture ” gives you a glimpse —
Dr. Burton has also founded a scholarship in his late wife’s honor targeted at supporting more women coming in to the fire service.
Tune in and let The Fire Inside Her warm your soul.
Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO has been in the fire service for 53 years working at the local, county, state, national, and international levels; in operations, training, prevention, and administration. He was the Management Science / Organizational Development Chair and the Principal Research Advisor for the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. He has published and lectured worldwide. His degrees are in business administration and adult education and served on 20 dissertation committees. He was a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins University Bloomsburg School of Public Health at the Center for Fire Safety Research and Policy. He serves as a board member of the Fire Service Psychology Association and John M. Moschella Fire Service Research Grant Trust and as an Expert Technical Review for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. In 2021 he was inducted into the National Fire Heritage Center’s Hall of Legends. Finally, he published two books: “I Can’t Save You and Don’t Want Die Trying: American Fire Culture.” Premium Press America, Nashville TN 2023 and “The Feather: Poetry by M. E. Hammond.” Premium Press America, Nashville TN 2020.
To donate to this scholarship or to learn more click HERE -scroll down to designation in the pulldown window and select Carolyn Smith-Clark and Dr. Burton Clark endowed scholarship.
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Diane Schroeder [00:00:00]:
Welcome to the Fire inside her podcast, a safe space for leadership, self care, and community. I'm your host, Diane Schroeder, and it is my privilege to be your guide on the journey to authenticity.
Diane Schroeder [00:00:18]:
Legacy is defined as the long lasting impact of particular events, actions, etcetera. that took place in the past or of a person's life. I think an important question to ask yourself is What do you want your legacy to be? What impact do you want to leave on the world on your family? on your community? It's a heavy question. My guest this week will no doubt leave his legacy in the fire service. It was such a privilege to interview Doctor Burton Clark. He has been foundational in the fire service for so many years And he really is passionate about life safety, risk reduction, keeping people safe And it's not always the sexiest part of the fire service. When I got into the profession, I was really looking forward to fighting fires and being a superhero and really earning my stripes. And while I was very fortunate to be on significant fires throughout my career when I was in the fire service, the most impact that I felt I had was through risk reduction and helping people to make better choices and giving information so that they could live along and healthy life and reduce the risk of being injured or having a fire in their house. What I loved about this conversation that doctor Clark and I had is that he was very genuine and very honest and just so authentic. He really was vulnerable when he spoke about his childhood and some of the challenges that he overcame, his journey into the fire service, his love for the fire service and his love for his late wife, Carolyn. And the support that he has for women in the fire service and change makers. And, really, he's a disrupter, which makes him a kindred spirit to me. Doctor Burton Clark, EFO has been in the fire service for 53 years working with local county, state, national, and international levels. and operations, training, prevention, and administration. He was the management science slash organizational development chair and the Principal Research Advisor for the executive fire officer program at the National Fire Academy. He has published and lectured worldwide. His degrees are in business administration and adult education, and he's served on 20 dissertation committees. He has a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Center for Fire Safety Research And Policy. He serves as a board member of the Fire Service Psychology Association and John M Moschalla Fire Service Research Grant Trust, and as an expert technical review for the National Institute of Occupational Health And Safety. firefighter Fatality investigation and prevention program. In 2021, he was inducted into the National Heritage Centers Hall of Legends. Finally, he published two books. I can't save you and don't want to die trying American Fire Service culture. and the feather, poetry by Emmy Hammond. I can't wait to hear what your thoughts are. on this interview with Doctor Clark. And don't forget to head on over to the fire insider.com/audio to kick start your self care routine.
Diane Schroeder [00:04:28]:
Good afternoon, Doctor Burton Clark. How are you doing?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:04:31]:
I'm doing fine, and Bert's just fine. You don’t have to do the doctor.
Diane Schroeder [00:04:35]:
Okay. Well, you know, I'd I'm not sure. I just wanna stay with the formalities, and, you know, it's well earned. That's for sure.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:04:31]:
I use it every place. So some of my business cards, all my stuff. So, yes, it's well earned, and that's a it's an acknowledgement of all the people that allowed me to get that designation. So I'm I'm proud of it, and yeah. So it's okay.
Diane Schroeder [00:04:55]:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today. I start every episode with a random question just to kinda make us relax a little bit more. And my question for you is, would you rather spend a lifetime being itchy or have the hiccups ?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:05:17]:
Diane Schroeder [00:05:19]:
Really? Can I ask why?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:05:21]:
Well, if I had hiccups, I couldn't talk.
Diane Schroeder [00:05:24]:
It's a really good point.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:05:27]:
Yeah. And the other thing too, because you can scratch an itch. Scatching it, it feels good. People will say, how are you doing? I say, oh, I'm laughing and scratching because you could get some relief by scratching. But when you have the hiccups, boy, a lifetime of them, I can't imagine that. That would just ruin your whole day. Not to mention your whole life, but that was a very good icebreaker.
Diane Schroeder [00:05:48]:
Alright. Well, why don't we start with you are an OG in the fire service. You are a true leader, and it is such a privilege to be able to talk to you today. So why don't you share a little bit of your story, the highlights or cliff notes of your journey to the fire service, and then we'll talk a little bit about your recent book.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:06:11]:
So let's see, OG. Is that for old guy?
Diane Schroeder [00:06:15]:
Original gangster is really what OG means. But it can be old guy.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:06:20]:
I'm not with it. So Yeah. Yeah. Original gangster. Now I know, badass, but I've never been thought of as original gangster. Now I was more of the original milk toast. But I joined the fire service in 1970 very much by accident. My first wife and I, we moved to Maryland, and I was gonna continue going to school. I was gonna go to work as a clerk for the FBI. And I got caught up in a hiring freeze, and my first wife had a job so I just took part time jobs. I was, like, a lifeguard, and up the street from our house was the Kentland volunteer fire department. So just on a Saturday or Sunday, I'd walked up there to get some groceries and came out, and it was like August. There wasn't anything in my bag that would melt I just walked across the street to the firehouse and walked in, and my whole life changed. I had never even been in a firehouse that I remembered. Never even thought about being a firefighter. but just fell in love with the business, and everything changed. 2 years later, in 1972, January, I became a career firefighter in Washington, DC. And all those years later, in 2014, I retired from the National Fire Academy, And, you know, now I'm on my 53rd year in the fire service, and I just can't get enough of it, can't get rid of it. And here I am on your show. So along the way, I worked at the Prince George's County Fire Department as a volunteer. I was career firefighter in Washington DC. On the faculty of National Fire Academy from 30 to 64, I was a state instructor from Merrill Fire Rescue Institute, Schroeder fire trucks the whole time, was an EMT, and just loved every minute of it, and still do. And we just had a fatality here in Maryland just yesterday, and it kinda broke by heart. Firefighter fell through a floor. So please remember that incident And what we do is dangerous, and we can all do better. So here we are.
Diane Schroeder [00:08:20]:
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing. And I know that was a very high level overview of your career. There are a lot of details in that, and I know you've done a lot of work tirelessly to promote the safety of firefighters. And I guess, at first, let me say that you are only the second guy I've had on my podcast past.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:08:43]:
I did notice that, and I am very honored.
Diane Schroeder [00:08:46]:
Well, I am honored too.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:08:49]:
But if it's I think I reached out to you too because I saw that your program was focused on women, creating safe spaces. And as you know, my wife Carolyn just passed away last November. And since then, I've created the Carolyn Smith Park endowed scholarship at Frederick Community College for women into fire service. So the money is targeted towards women coming into the fire service. And when I look back at my career, I think women have gave me some of the most important opportunities that got me where I am today. So by dedicating it to Carolyn and then helping more women on paying it back or paying it forward, And I understand we're a male dominated environment, and men that think that it's important for our women to be part of us need to support that effort. So that's why I wanted to be on your show and talk about those kind of things.
Diane Schroeder [00:09:45]:
Well, thank you so much. That gives me goosebumps. I'm curious. Can you give me some examples of the women that gave you? What opportunities?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:09:54]:
Well, sure. I mean, so you gotta realize at the time, I didn't know it. But going back because I do a lot of self examination in my history and where I came from. But As a child and still am as an adult, I am dyslexic. So if you know anything about dyslexia, dyslexic children have a very difficult time in school. and I was that child. To this day, I couldn't pass a spelling test. And in a elementary school is pelling me. I'd be the first one to sit down. But I'm still Doctor Clark. Those are the dichotomies. And very early on, When I was in 3rd grade, I remember my mother going to school and telling them you have to hold him back because you can't read. So she understood there was a problem. But the school said, hey. He's got the highest IQ in class, but she said, I don't care. You need to hold him back. So at the time, I certainly didn't think that was a good thing. But then mom also arranged for me to go to summer schools to help me even though the school didn't do it. So she was one of my first advocates, And then even when it was time for me to go to college, the high school guidance counselor said, no. He'll never go to college. Well, mom again found this small business college that let me in. And I went from a C-D student to the dean's list in my 1st semester. So that allowed me to continue on this process. So the other piece that happened too is that whole time during high school, I was part of the YMCA system. And in Norway, New Jersey, the YMCA also was the YWCA, So it was an integrated YMCA. So there were always boys and girls together in class. And when you're swimming, and you're a child, it's a very equalizing environment. In terms of just because you're big, doesn't make you better at anything when you're in the water. So it was it's very equalizing, and I became a a lifeguard, a swimming instructor, So I had women in my classes all the time even as a lifeguard and a swing instructor, and I taught women to be lifeguards and stuff. So I was in an environment that was equal opportunity. Now on a track team, you couldn't be the same. On the swim team, you couldn't be the same either. But in the YMCA system, in the learn to swim and the aquatic program, women and men were treated equally. So I think that was put into me very early on and without even knowing it. I had women in my life the whole time, even though it was bigger than most of them, because I'm so tall. But still, there was that equality thing that the water gave us. being on land doesn't. But when you're in the water, it's pretty even ground there when you're in the water. And then my first wife was very understanding us, but too much time at the volunteer firehouse. I got sucked into it, and then Carolyn was blessing after I got divorced. Carolyn came into my life, and she was a fire service person. So now it was just magical because she she knew the fire service And she just made life so much easier and so much more loving, and it was just wonderful. And we just had a wonderful time together. She taught the fire academy, We were there all the time. We danced at the odd house. We danced at the academy on karaoke night, and it was just a wonderful experience. Going along, my first supervisor at The Fire Academy was a woman. when I was detailed there, it was Anne Currier later to become Ann Fabian. So, again, she had no fire service background, but she was a professor at GW, Georgia Washington University. And even before that, when I got my big break at the DC filing department, it was a woman in the mayor's office that found me because of what I did done in my volunteer foot department. And she went to the mayor's office and said, I want this guy. He works for the DC fire department, so I was detailed to her. to the mayor's office. Throughout my whole life, there's there's always been women have given me an opportunity, not that men don't, but just kinda serendipitous that I recognized that, and it was appropriate for me to acknowledge that by making this a scholarship for Carolyn and then designating it towards women. Hopefully, that wasn't too long.
Diane Schroeder [00:14:23]:
No. Not at all. What it's a beautiful story, and What a beautiful tribute to Carolyn. That's legacy, and that lives on and on. And I think, you know, the other piece of it I talk about authenticity. That's, you know, it's about the journey to authenticity through leadership, self care, and community. And I don't wanna speak for every woman in the fire service because you know, I don't represent all women in the fire service, but I will tell you that for me, in my journey in the fire service, it was I've had so many male mentors who helped me along the way. And it's a serendipity moment for me to to be able to, you know, speak with an advocate, not just for women in the fire, but for life safety, for risk reduction, for, you know, all the I call it the kind of the unsexy things about the fire service that are so important. And you go back to smoke detectors, and the importance of smoke detectors, and so you experience the pushback, the, you know, the culture change of when America's burning was released and smoke detectors and how, you know, that wave really changed the world, the, you know, especially the American fire service. And then, you know, always advocating for safety from seat belts. I remember it wasn't that long ago when we signed the pledge for seat belts that we had to wear seat belts. And I'm like, I always wore my seat belt in the back of the truck. and that came from my dad because he won you know, he rode tail boards back in the day and actually fell off one time and had a fire truck roll over his leg. it didn't break it. I'm not not sure of all the details. It's a little fuzzy because I was I don't even know if I was born yet when it happened. But He had the tire treads on his leg, and it just barely got him. And he told me he said, you will always wear a seat belt. Absolutely. I will always wear a seat belt, sir. So I appreciate that, and your tireless advocacy for the fire service. And, you know, I was reading one of the acknowledgments in the preface of your book from doctor Lindsay Judah. And she you know, she's like, you're ahead of your time. It's almost like you're a time traveler. that you have tirelessly been fighting for the fire service and making it better for so long. And the other thing that strikes me that I think about is a deputy chief of mine when I was a new firefighter said, you know, back in Japan, they don't look at fire tragedy as a tragedy. they look at us, you shouldn't do that. It's not we don't surround the victims. They hold people accountable when fires occur. And I that blew my mind, and it really kinda opened the door for me for risk reduction and, you know, the importance of it because it's not something that was ever really discussed or talked about, you know, when I was in pro b, you know, fire recruit school or anything like that. Again, no one really sits a lot about back in the day of public education, but really how important it is. So I would love to hear why you were driven to write your most recent book that I can't save you and don't wanna die trying because that's a really powerful title. and I think it's a good disrupting title. So if you wanna share a little bit about that, I would really appreciate it.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:17:46]:
Sure. Well, as you know, this is the 2nd edition of the book. First edition was I Can't Save You, But I'll Die Trying. It had a picture of the fallen firefighters on in front of it. And that's where I had gotten, and that was my comfort level. That was my authentic self because I was still there. And then even fast forward to now when this came out this year, I've evolved. So I finally got enough courage to say no. I can't save you, and I don't wanna die trying. So I have to be able to say, no, I don't wanna die trying. because deep down, I knew that was wrong. and that was, again, that took a long time to get there, but I was trained that way. If you were ever a lifeguard, and I taught lifeguards, lifeguards are taught not to exchange the lifeguard's life for the person you're trying to save. That's a no no. Stay away from them. Let them go unconscious, and then pull them in. You are not to get involved with them because they can drown you. Because they want to hold on to you, and they will pull you down, and you will both drown. And you are no good if you are drowned. So that is put into you from the beginning. And I brought that with me into the fire service. And when I got into the fire service, it was at 180. Getting injured and killed was a red badge of courage. And that never made sense to me. You know, there's pivotal moments I joined the fire service in 1970 at the Kentland volunteer fire department. I mean, you can't get more of a badass fire department than Kentland volunteer fire department. In 1970, they were running a 1000 fire calls a year. We'd catch a working fire every week as a volunteer. So then I would go to DC and be a career firefighter. So I was I was doing a lot of the business of being a firefighter. and I loved it. I was good at it. I was gung ho, firefighter's firefighter, graduated number 1 from rookie school, and, you know, could do all the jobs, did all things. So then I moved bought a house, moved to Alvaro, Maryland, but I think it was February 1974, We had 7 fire fatalities in the month of February, in residential occupancies, and all the people were dead before we even left the firehouse. That was a significant emotional event in my life. That was a pivotal change. I realized all my bravado, all the equipment, all the bells and whistles could do nothing to help those people. If I was really about fighting fire and saving lives, there had to be a better way. And at the time, residential smoke detectors were just becoming available. Stratzel was the only company that had him, they were like a almost the size of a coffee can, ran on strange batteries, but they can alert you to a fire, and you can put them in your house. And I thought, wow. We need to do this. So I got one from myself, got one from my family, and then I became the chairman of the fire prevention committee in Laurel, Maryland, and we started going organization to organization to get people to buy and install smoke detectors. So that's what I did because sitting at the firehouse practicing was okay. I didn't even practice that stuff. I needed to do more, not just wait for the alarm, but I got enough people interested in it, and we took a team of people around And we did that, and we got some recognition won some awards. And that's how I ended up at the National Fire Academy and how the Laurel voluntary Fire Department Smoke detector campaign became the role model, an initial old natural fiber engine control administration, smoke detector campaign. back in, you know, in the mid seventies. So and that's how I ended up at the fire academy. Because I talked to DC fire department and firefighters how to do smoke detector stuff And then the academy asked me to be detailed to him, so I was detailed to do smoke detector training for firefighters nationwide. to convince the fire service that we are the experts and as people are going to ask us, we don't wanna look stupid. We need to know the answers to these questions. How do they work? Where do we need to put them? What are the codes? What are the standards? You know, we need to push that kind of stuff. And I actually talk about being ahead of your time, I knew that we had to have fires. So I created an actual live burn demonstration that we did at the training sessions where we put smoke obscuration measurements in, We measured carbon monoxide. We measured heat temperature. And then so we could tell when the conditions in the building were unsafe and when the smoke detector would go off was, opposed to when an heat detector would go off. And we had all the students reading these kinda instruments. And firefighters had never been exposed to the chemistry and physics of fire like that before. So it was an eye opening experience for everybody And it got a lot of media attention. I was on radio shows and TV shows all over the country talking about this kind of stuff, and it was just a magical time. And Now we got lots of smoke detectors in people's homes. My first doctor dissertation I helped was Lythmic Blackledge, Johns Hopkins University, and I was her smoke detector technical expert. I mean, smoke detectors were certainly a part of my career, and then the other curriculum I did at Fire Academy, I did the pub ed stuff. So I was in charge of creating the original public fire safety education curriculum at the academy. Again, a lot of women came to it. That was okay. Everybody was jealous of me because I had the best classes and the most creative and innovative, and we had the best parties. So it was a wonderful experience. And I'm just so grateful to all those folks that let this crazy guy so a lot of the crazy people come to join me, and we did crazy stuff, and it was just wonderful. And it keeps going. We are here on your show, and it's about being your authentic self, and, you know, I am still trying to figure out who is my authentic self. So this is as good for me as it is for you.
Diane Schroeder [00:23:58]:
Thank you. That that's the journey. And I think it it you said earlier, it's always evolving, and it should be always evolving because the people we start off with shouldn't be the people we end up as you should learn and learn from life. Life is a a brutal teacher. I like to call the brutal and beautiful together.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:24:18]:
Yeah. That's a good phrase. I'll remember that phrase. That's a good phrase.
Diane Schroeder [00:24:22]:
Yes. Thank you. You know, I think when you mentioned the Fire Academy so my dad was a volunteer firefighter, and he loved the National Fire Academy. That was his you know, he spoke so highly of it from the time I could remember when I joined the fire you know, as a little girl, then when I joined the fire service, I was like, I gotta get to the national fire. Academy. My first class out there was a public education class. And it was in 2008, you are not the instructor at the time.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:24:55]:
Yeah. I had moved on to the management science and the EFO program at the time. Yeah.
Diane Schroeder [00:25:00]:
Right. And I still use the curriculum to build a program with outcomes and objectives from that course 15 years ago to this day. Whenever I put a course together, I bust out my little cheat sheet, and that's what I use because it's so solid. And what I loved about the National Fire Academy is the connections that you make. And, obviously, you'd mentioned dancing at karaoke night, karaoke night by far is the best night at the National Fire Academy. And for those of you listening, Karaoke night is usually on a Wednesday night, and all the classes get together. They meet at the pub, and we sing karaoke. and it's not about whether or not you can sing. I learned that quickly because I cannot carry a tune. It's about having the courage to stand up in front of everyone and be your authentic self and have fun and joy and really, you know, just make those memories. And throughout all 4 years of VFO, I had a lot of the same classmates, and it was just magical because that's what we did. Every Wednesday night, we were at the pub or we'd go to the odd house or we'd go to the VFW and Some of the best memories of my fire career were at the National Fire Academy.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:26:12]:
Chuck and I, we used to teach together at the Fire Academy. We would say that 60% of the learning takes place in the classroom, and 40% takes place out of the classroom. Now it could have been the other way, but that way, it it was for job security for Chuck and I. I don't know exactly what the percentage is, but we'll keep telling that story. But that's that is so important that high-tech and high touch that is so critical. You need to have that bonding experience. You can learn this stuff in a classroom, but it's outside the classroom. where you really put it into context with each other and share your insight and your thoughts and your moments and your challenges and the academy was such a safe place for people to come and to be their authentic self.
Diane Schroeder [00:26:54]:
I was just gonna say that. You know, when I was there for EFO, the 1st year, I was in a really dark place. I was in the middle of a super messy divorce, and it was just a really bad time in my life. And the group that I met year 1, they are still my great friends today almost 10 years later. they were there, I could be myself. They saw me for who I was. I didn't have to try to pretend to be someone else. I was kind of a mess. and it didn't matter. And as we all grew over those 4 years, because I don't think you realize it when you're in it. But when I look back at how much I grew professionally and personally through the 4 years of EFO. That was a lot. And it was magical.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:27:39]:
The other thing that it does is nobody wears rank when they go to the academy. And, you know, can be sitting next to a deputy chief from New York City and a volunteer chief from East Arkansas, and they're treated equally. And they are expected to contribute equally to be able to learn from each other. It breaks down to the common denominator both at a professional level and a human level. And when that happens, so much powerful stuff can come out of it, not just from professional stuff. But people's lives has been changed as a result of having that experience.
Diane Schroeder [00:28:16]:
Oh, absolutely. And I think it really illustrates a great example of psychological safety. You know, you can go to an EFO class or any class at the National Fire Academy and it's a safe space for all the reasons you just listed. And, you know, psychological safety is something that we talk a lot about. recently, which is important, people can just be themselves and they feel like they belong, and it gives a good sense of community.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:28:43]:
And Carolyn a trained counselor in brief death and dying theology. So she had that counselor skill. So so many people opened up and came to her after class and would call her years afterwards. And so she did a lot of that one on one with people, because that's the way she was. And it was a wonderful life for her to be able to do that, and she helped so many people. It was a great environment for her to be in to be able to do that, and the people that came there wanted that. I tell people that the academy is so successful because we get the brightest students. And the students we get are the outliers back home.
Diane Schroeder [00:29:24]:
Dr. Burton Clark [00:29:28]:
When you get there, you're among friends because you're all outliers. You got nobody like you back home, but when you get to Emmisburg at the academy, you're all the crazy people. So it's just magical. It's just absolutely magical because people mostly self select to be there, and it's just a wonderful place. So that's enough commercial for NFA.
Diane Schroeder [00:29:49]:
I couldn't agree more. And it it's good to reminisce about that because It does. It will always hold a very special place in my heart. So after 50 plus years in the fire service, how have you learned to take care of yourself? And how important is self care or self maintenance to you?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:30:10]:
A couple things. I think my dyslexia was very pivotal in me becoming very aware of emotional intelligence. Now at the time, I didn't know it. When you're a dyslexic, you know that you're an outlier right away. So you become very sensitive to other people that have problems or challenges because you know you do you have the same thing. Now I had benefits too because I was male, and I was always the tallest kid in class. So nobody ever picked on me. They thought I was a badass. They didn't know I was milk toast. Alright? Because nobody picked on me, I never had to fight I never had to stand up for myself because nobody picked on me. So I liked everybody and everybody liked me but I had to be who I was. And the other thing, not challenge, but I also grew up in an alcoholic home. So at the time, I didn't know it. But later on in life, I went to adult children alcoholics because, you know, as one of the shows, somebody talked about all the rocks you carry around in your backpack. And so I had all these rocks too. but I had feathers in there too. So I had good and bad, and I think I recognized that very early on. and a pivotal point was that I almost grew up in 2 homes. It was my mom and dad, dad was wonderful. He was a firefighter during the 2nd World War, the greatest generation, but that was alcoholic. A working, functioning. loving man, but not on Thursday nights when he got paid. You know, stay away from dad. And mom grew up an alcoholic home because of her dad. So children of alcoholics, don't trust. Don't feel. Don't talk. That's what you learn in a dysfunctional home. Don't trust. Don't feel. Don't talk. because you can't, the issue is all about the alcoholism and the dysfunction that that causes. Don't talk. Don't feel. Don't trust. Now in another pump another family, which is my great aunts and uncles and my great grandmother who had no children. I spent a lot of time there because that was a tremendously safe space. A child could do no wrong in that space. It was like Disneyland. Right? Literally, a child could do no wrong, where in that regular house, I always thought that the child was the problem that caused the confusion and the conflict because you're a child. One place was happy? They didn't have any kids. The place that was unhappy had kids. So I carried that around with me for a long time And I learned to be able to survive. Right? Not that it was bad, but I learned to be able to survive. So That was taken care of myself. I didn't act out. I didn't do bad things to get attention. because when I got attention and it was negative, you know, I didn't want that. I was the good boy. I was the number one son. My brother was the little more active, and so the the second child is usually a little bit different than the first child. So and then the YMCA helped me too. Because at the YMCA, I could be helpful. I was tall. I could stand up in a shallow end. I helped students. I became very empathetic to people that were afraid of drowning. So I was very empathetic, but I could help them. So the way I think about it in terms of my self care I had a lot of people to help me, and I don't know, in terms of who I am today, I talk about this with my kids. I would like to think that I am 51% responsible for who I am today. And the other 49% is genetics and DNA and the experiences I had, but it may not be 51 49. I may be 49%, and everything else be 51%. So I don't know because I'm still evolving and still learning. After Carolyn's death, I had a whole new definition of what grief is. I didn't know I could have that much grief. I did not know I could have that much grief. I may tear up here. but because I'm still going through it. Finally, when I came out of that, also, you know, I reflect back. I thought, wow. That was very terrible to lose her. But looking back what we had, I have a whole new definition of what love is too because now I can appreciate the love that I had that I didn't even know I was having at time. There's a yin and the yang of that. And then finally, the next stage I'm still going through is being alone. You know, I never felt so alone. You know, I don't have anybody to say, good morning to, or I'm going out, or kiss my ass or, you know, I love you. And I always had that from my mother to my first wife to my second wife, and they all gave me something. And then Carolyn was the one that gave me the most. So yeah. Now I'm I explained that the I feel like a kindergarten kid, like a five year old. that's being pushed into kindergarten without understanding of how I'm supposed to be, why I'm supposed to feel, where I'm supposed to go, what I'm supposed to do, But at the same time, I am lucky that I could be on the show with you. This, the fire service, have always helped give meaning to my life. and it's continuing to do that even right now that I can share this with you that it may help somebody else that's going through the same thing. What a blessing that is So --
Diane Schroeder [00:35:45]:
Absolutely. And that that's very vulnerable. So thank you for sharing that. I Grief is a sneaky bitch. I don't know how else to describe it. I wish it was more linear and checkbox and, you know, you go through the phases, and then all of a sudden, boom, it hits you out of nowhere, and it's hard. It's really hard. And I feel that those that we lose are always with us, and there's always signs that they're with us. and it doesn't make it any easier when you can't talk to them and when you're struggling. I think about that, you know, with my dad even we had a very challenging relationship. I pushed the envelope a lot, and he pushed back a lot. And now I I see it differently now and different, but I realized that, man, I was pretty lucky to have a dad that, you know, for almost 50 years was always there for every moment even though he didn't have the right thing to say. I'm very grateful for that.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:36:48]:
I completely understand, and trust me, it doesn't stop. You're continually growing and developing or you're decaying and dying. Yeah. So I'm still a work in progress trying to figure out what I wanna be when I grow up, and just enjoying the trip every day. Because at my age, you're really in touch with your own mortality too. I know I have fewer days in front of me than I got behind me, and I now know I'm whatever winning the game is, I'm not gonna win the game. and but I'm just gonna play my heart out for whatever time I've got left to play in the game and give it everything I got because that's all there is. But I'm surrounded by family, We had 6 kids, 14 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren. One of them is about to be born in November. So it's just a wonderful a wonderful life. I'm a blessed man. Yeah.
Diane Schroeder [00:37:39]:
Well, and it shows, you know, the cycle of life, you know, that it it continues to go on. And You know, there are the bumpy, hard moments, and you can't have the beautiful moments without the challenging moments.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:37:54]:
I just gave a speech at a commissioning ceremony for a bunch of lieutenants, and I I had the audience, I said the the speech was about change. And I said, we we're taught what change is and how to feel about it. I said, okay. Everybody think of that slow motion camera movie of a a flower coming up out of the ground and blooming and being pretty, and how does that make you feel? So it fell a certain way. So okay. Now So y'all felt good about that. Now we're gonna keep watching this, and now the flower is decaying and dying and shriveling up and ending back in the ground. That makes you feel bad. But the reality is, it's the same thing. It's about change. We are programmed to see one as beautiful, and one is ugly and not beautiful. But it's all still the same thing. It's all about change. And the other one I talk about is if you've ever seen the photograph referred to as the pale blue dot, which is the picture of Earth from having millions of miles away. That's just the size of a pixel in this dust stout cloud. It's just this blue dot. It certainly makes you see how insignificant humanity is. That makes you feel pretty small. But then on the other side, I say, yeah, but we took the picture. So if we can take that selfie, that's pretty damn amazing. So as insignificant as humans may be, we're pretty damn amazing for being so insignificant that we could take a picture of ourself that far away.
Diane Schroeder [00:39:25]:
Wow. Like, as we goose funds, that's a good perspective.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:39:29]:
Yeah. I don't know all the answers. I'm always trying to look for them and understand them about myself and it rolled around me, and I'm just enjoying the journey.
Diane Schroeder [00:39:37]:
Well, those are pretty wise words. Can you tell me a little bit more about the scholarship?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:39:44]:
Oh, sure. Well, we just started it. And what I'll do, I will send you all the links and stuff where people can refer to it. But it's just that the Frederick Community College the Frederick Community College Foundation, and it tells you about how to make a donation. And then you scroll down and there's something about designating can designate where you wanna send your donation to. And as a bunch of you push the arrows, you know, and always titles show up, And Carolyn and I are about to 5th or 6th one down. It says Carolyn Smith Clark and Doctor Burton Clark in Dallas scholarship. So that's the scholarship that is geared towards women into our service. And just this last weekend, We had our first fundraiser, and we raised $700 at the odd house raffling off copies of my new book, and I'm grateful for all the people that were there and helped.
Diane Schroeder [00:40:33]:
Well, congratulations. That's like I said, that's a a beautiful legacy that lives on, and I can't think of a better gift to give Carolyn then letting her help fund future women in the fire service. I think that's fantastic. Well, thank you for spending almost an hour now of your time.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:40:53]:
Has it been an hour already? Oh my goodness. Wow.
Diane Schroeder [00:40:55]:
Yeah. It it well, 40 minutes. that goes by pretty fast, is there let's see. If you could give one piece of advice, to a brand new firefighter who has seen all the advertisements, so just watch the shows, and they're gonna go do superhero stuff, and they're gonna make a difference and fight fire all the time. That's what they believe. What would you tell them before they start this profession?
Dr. Burton Clark [00:41:29]:
Well, I can do one better because I can read something out of my book that is exactly the conclusion I came to, and it's part of my farewell speech that I gave to the Fire Academy. Doesn't take very long. It's called farewell to the National Fire Academy. After 44 years of service, this I believe, as a member of the fire service discipline, what I know and what I don't know, has life and death consequences for me and others. Therefore, a fire service calling demands my highest level of professionalism. Our proudest moment is when we accept the fact that fire prevention, smoke alarms, and fire sprinklers will save more lives and property from fire than we ever will. Our noble deeds of daring are measured by having the courage to do each task 100% correct, 100% of the time, especially when others around us are not, because lives are at stake. Our supreme success is achieved when there is no injury or death or loss from fire. As a firefighter, we honor the past, because many people at events put us here today. We celebrate the precious present, because we have accomplished much, and tomorrow belongs to no one. And we believe in the future, because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives serving the people and achieving our purpose.
Diane Schroeder [00:42:54]:
Dr. Burton Clark [00:42:55]:
Here you go.
Diane Schroeder [00:42:57]:
That gives me goosebumps. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate, again, I'm grateful for your time. I'm grateful for your wisdom. I'm excited to, again, interview and talk with a legend in the fire service, and I will put all the information in the show notes that people need to with the scholarship information, the link to your book, which I'm about a third of the way through. I have a very large stack of books, and I don't read as much as I probably should in the summertime. So, again, thank you very much, Doctor Clark.
Dr. Burton Clark [00:43:31]:
Diane Schroeder [00:43:33]:
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to this episode. Curious on what to do next? Go ahead and follow wherever you're listening to this podcast so you can get updates each week when new episodes are released. and head on over to the fire inside her dot com slash audio for a free audio to help you get started on yourself care journey.
Diane Schroeder [00:44:01]:
Until next time, remember, you are a badass, and you are not alone.