From the Chaplain’s Study – Chaplain Leon I. VanWie

Size Up - Issue 4 • 2014

Deadline: September 24 – Mailing Date: November 15


For the last couple months we have heard flocks of Canadian geese heading south for the winter. Every now and then we will still hear some – but most have vacated upstate New York and Canada knowing that winter is fast approaching and according to the Farmer’s Almanac – it is going to be brutally cold!


Often we will hear the southern migration before we see them, but once they are in sight they are undoubtedly in their well-established “V-formation”. It is fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern as well as their in-flight habits.


1. Those in front rotate their leadership. When one lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the V-formation and another flies point.


2. By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. Each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. It has been estimated that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.


3. When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until it's able to fly again or if it is no longer able to fly, they will stay with it until it dies.

4. The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. It might simply be their way of announcing to the lead goose that they're following and that all is well. For sure, the repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it.


Above everything else it seems that the natural instinct of geese is to work together. Whether it's rotating leadership, flapping to ease the work load, helping the hurt, or simply honking encouragement - the flock is in it together...which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.

There is much that we in the fire and emergency medical services can learn from these feathered creatures.


1. While many chiefs will hold the position for years – they are only able to be effective as a leader if they have the support and encouragement of those following. It is also the responsibility of those immediately behind the leader to periodically check on the well-being of the lead goose/chief. Fatigue and burnout are all too common in the leadership of the fire and EMSs.


2. I serve as president of our Town of Watertown Fire Department and there have been a few times when my task at our meetings is to prevent bloodshed when a heated discussion (argument) breaks out. Thankfully those times have been few and far between, but I’m sure we are not the only department with such tension. However, when the alarm sounds or when a challenge is presented it amazes me how quickly we pull together to get the job done. It isn’t a matter of five of us accomplishing five times the work of one – it becomes six, seven or eight times what one could accomplish. This has been called synergy and relates to the 71% mentioned in bullet #2 above.


3. When one of us is injured or hurt, unlike the geese, more than two will provide assistance. Most often the entire department will rally to support those in need.


4. I know that many who are reading this article are the head geese. But hopefully many of those in the rear will know the importance of simply honking. Leadership in our departments and fire service organizations need to know that we have elected them to lead us and we will follow them. The encouragement of the entire department will enable fire chiefs to accomplish much and conversely – the lack of encouragement is detrimental to not just the chief, but the entire department. The encouragement and support of the members of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs is crucial in helping President Corkery, his officers and the board accomplish their goals for this year.

Honk on!


(Rev. Leon VanWie has been a United Methodist pastor for 41 years, serving churches and fire departments in Western, Central and Northern New York. He has been active in the fire service for 39 years and has served as a fire chaplain for 38. He was an EMT for over 15 years and currently he serves as the chaplain, president and a truck captain in the Town of Watertown Volunteer Fire Department in Jefferson County. He serves as chaplain for the Jefferson County Fire Fighter and Fire Chiefs Association and assists, as chaplain, other departments in the county as needed. He is also on the Board of Directors of the NYSAFChaplains, Inc. and can be reached at 315.771.9142 or