Why the WOFD History Book is Stalled
I was about to leave town on a booksigning tour for my latest mystery novel when my editor reminded me that the WOFD project was still up-in-the-air and asked what I wanted to do. With scant days before my leaving, I mentioned the situation to a fireman friend, who then offered to bring it to the attention of the "acting chief". The "acting chief" claimed that he knew nothing about the project and suggested I set up an appointment for a meeting. This seemed odd to me because not only had now-retired Chief Smeraldo copied the "acting chief" with our last e-mail exchange about the project (I have the saved e-mail) but I followed up by also sending the "acting chief" the press release describing the project in detail and why it had been undertaken.
I e-mailed the "acting chief", explaining that I had no time for meetings and I re-explained how everything stood: The requested book was complete. I would forward an announcement which a secretary could e-mail to current firefighters and retirees. If interested, they could then contact the publisher with their orders. This was exactly how the police department had handled their history book and it was a process which worked very well. There's no monetary profit to be made; the cover price of the books barely covered the production costs and I would cover the loss just as I had already covered the pre-press costs. It was yet another of my donations.
The response was that the "acting chief" needed to see the book to ascertain whether it was "appropriate" for the department's sanction. These bureaucrats get fixated on buzz words and they give no thought to actual word meanings. But in each following e-mail, he kept insisting on using the phrase "appropriate for the department" and he didn't seem to comprehend that this was highly insulting even when I kept pointing that out to him. I was nonplused at how a simple matter was now suddenly getting entirely out-of-hand.
Let's recap: I wrote the WOFD Centennial Album in 1994. It won raves throughout the state, the nation, and even internationally (as far as the U.K., France, and Australia). Now-retired Chief Smeraldo had even used it for recruits to study and be tested on so that they had some idea of the department's place in the community. It was Chief Smeraldo who had asked me to update the book after I had given a speech at the dedication of a fire department memorial. I wrote the Centennial Album and gave the speech because I was the fire department historian. What's more, the year before, when asked by Chief Smeraldo, I had donated photos of each chief back to the very first one. Each of those photos was professionally matted and framed (just as I had done for the police department when Chief Abbott was the first to make the same request). Those photographs cost the department nothing and they hang in fire headquarters in the corridor which leads to the chief's office. The photographs were no small matter in terms of my time and my money. And during the insulting back and forth with this "acting chief", I actually considered asking for those photos to be returned to me but they were done for Chief Smeraldo, who always treated me with friendliness and respect so I wanted those photos up as a remembrance to him since his photo is included. What now won't be supplied are two more vintage photo enlargements I had promised as donations for hanging in fire headquarters to celebrate both the department's roots and the late Chief Kennedy.
At no time during my work for Chief Smeraldo was I ever double-checked as to what I would write or say or supply in images. Why? Because the quality and professionalism of my work has spoken for itself for decades. Why would I ever do anything to shed a negative light on the fire department? I have relatives and ancestors who served in both the police and fire departments. One of my fire department ancestors dates back to the 1910's and I still have his badge, which is No. 2!
I took a deep breath and thought maybe this "acting chief" didn't comprehend what an expanded edition was, so I explained that this book contained all of the text of the original Centennial Album but added a chapter on Chief Kennedy (about whom I had just discovered more information and that chapter was what I had used as my speech at the fire memorial dedicated to him). It also had an expanded the history of how the department was founded.
Again, the acting chief insisted that he had to ascertain whether this book would be "appropriate".
The continual insult was making me crazy. I explained that I had never ever had to get approval for my historical research from anyone before him. That included not only retired Chief Smeraldo but also retired Chief Capron (who was in charge when I wrote the Centennial Album). Added to that, when Police Chief Abbott had asked if I would be interested in writing a WOPD history, I went and did it. He knew I was writing it but he never asked for a "review" and he couldn't have been more pleased with the result. None of these chiefs asked for a "review" because they knew me and my work and they had no expertise about the actual history (these books have been about the historical story and not about the technical end of things). I suggested the "acting chief" corroborate that with any or all of the three chiefs I mentioned.
The "acting chief" responded, "I find it hard to believe" that no review was ever asked for by any of the chiefs. So now, according to him, I was not only untrustworthy about the historical material I was supplying but I was also a liar even though he never bothered to check with any of the chiefs to find out that what I said was completely true.
I had seen this before. The guy was suffering from "now I'm in charge" syndrome and I learned a long time ago that some people don't have the personalities to ever be placed in charge. This "acting chief" wasn't acting like a chief at all. I wasn't some underling. I was the expert on the fire department's history. What made me balk most was that in my professional life, I long ago reached a point where I no longer had to audition and I certainly wasn't about to audition for someone who didn't match my degree of expertise in the subject matter.
The other reason for my chafing at the request of a "review"was my witnessing how, whenever politicians and bureaucrats get involved, West Orange history gets rewritten on their whim and for their benefit so that the true facts are now unrecognizable. As a result of that, we celebrate the town's founding on the wrong year. We mislabel historic sections of town. We post historical markers in the wrong places. That is what has always embarrassed and angered me and it wasn't going to happen in any book which bears my name.
This revised edition of the WOFD history was a donation which had been solicited of me. I undertook the project because I'm one of those people who does such things with only accuracy and good will involved. But in West Orange, that is a completely foreign concept and it leaves one open for abuse—I've got the scars to prove that.
Like my framed photos of all the previous fire chiefs and all the previous police chiefs, the town would never have paid for the history book project due to the time and monetary costs involved. I wasn't about to incur further costs to furnish a proof to this "acting chief" who was insistent on insulting me. The time and the money I had already spent on this favor were much more than enough.
So we're at a standstill. I've blocked any further e-mails from this "acting chief". If the next permanent person in the Fire Chief job has some class and tact and appreciation, he can contact me and maybe we'll proceed with the book at that time. Until then, life's too short to put up with West Orange's continual insults and ingratitude.
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Copyright © 2017 by John Dandola, Ltd. All rights reserved.
It Wouldn't be West Orange if
It Didn't Involve Insults and Ingratitude
The reason why the updated West Orange Fire Department history has not seen print and may never see print is because West Orange has fallen back on conducting itself with a complete lack of manners.
The only two pleasures in doing historical work for West Orange were Police Chief Abbott and now-retired Fire Chief Smeraldo. Neither of them were politicians who were trying to hog the limelight. They both always treated me with kindness and respect and they both were highly appreciative of what I did for them and their departments. Chief Abbott even gave me an award. For the first time in West Orange, I got spoiled.
And so it came as a complete surprise when, after Fire Chief Smeraldo retired, I once again got the usual West Orange slap in the face and, surprisingly, it was over a book which had now been in print for nearly twenty-five years. That's correct, the fire department had benefitted from a history book which I wrote for them twenty-five years ago and which Fire Chief Smeraldo had requested be updated to include the biography of the only firefighter (Chief Martin T. Kennedy) to have died in the line of duty back in 1942.
The WOFD history is an expanded version of the department's original Centennial Album