Updates: You can’t take it with you!

Rev. Kenneth N. Hessel


I don’t know how many times I’ve started up my computer for the day and been faced with the prospect of waiting for the computer to upload the latest batch of updates necessary for the protection and well performance of the computer. The worst ones are the ones that take place in the middle of some important work and that annoying pop up shows up that says, “The computer will automatically restart in 10 minutes.”

In the course of firefighting we, too, have gone through a series of updates. We recently were introduced to a few new acronyms to assist us in our firefighting skills and for our protection. Some of these are just new variations of things we have always done; others may be a total new approach to firefighting. It’s important to remember and update our thinking to things like S.L.I.C.E.R.S., V.E.I.S., and L.U.N.A.R. (If you don’t remember what these are, it’s a good time to review and process them in your memory.)

I would like to remind you of another, more practical type of update that we need to perform. In the course of my ministry and chaplaincy I have run into the failure of this update a number of times and I have seen it cause much chagrin and damage in a person’s family relationships. It’s a simple and necessary update that can benefit so many.

This update is really simple. Review and update your personnel record and your beneficiaries.

As obvious as this seems, it is amazing how often this gets overlooked. Think of how many things can change in a year. It could be something simple like changing your internet provider and receiving a new email address or moving to a new apartment and having a complete change of physical address. It could have been a bit more complicated like adding a dependent (spouse, child) or losing a dependent (death, divorce). Think these are minor things that don’t need an update?

Consider what would occur if something serious happened like a line of duty injury or death. What if that emergency contact you had listed on your personnel file is no longer at that telephone number you had put on your file 5 years ago when you first joined your department? Would anybody know how to reach them?

Or worse, what about that death beneficiary you had listed on the form as your spouse? You’ve gone through a nasty divorce, remarried and had children with your new spouse in the 15 years since you last updated the form. Guess who gets your death benefit?

As I said earlier, I have had to deal with a couple of incidents in which the surviving spouse or children didn’t get the benefits because a previous spouse was listed and the beneficiary form was never changed. The pain and anguish this caused was hardly worth the 5 minutes it would have taken to update the form.

My challenge to you is to take the time to look through your files and update them. Ask your personnel manager (or appropriate person in your department) to look through your information to bring them up to date. Chiefs, consider making this a yearly project in your department.

Rev. Kenneth N. Hessel is currently the Chief Chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc. having served in that role since 2014. Prior to that he served as the Executive Secretary for 6 years and 2 years on the Board of Directors. He serves as a firefighter, EMT and chaplain for the Westbury Fire Department, having joined the department in 1999. He was also the chairperson of the New York State Fire Council from 2009-2011. Pastor Ken, originally from Derby, NY, has been a Lutheran minister for 29 years.