First Responders: Leave Your Light On


Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Photo Credit: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

You playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightening about shrinking so others won’t feel insecure around you. As you let your own light shine, you indirectly give others permission to do the same. Make sure you let your light shine on!

Fire Station #6 in Livermore looks like an ordinary community fire station. But inside, positioned over the fire apparatus, is something quite extraordinary — something that draws visitors from around the world. Fire Station #6 is home to the oldest working lightbulb.

The 60-watt bulb was installed in 1901 at the fire department hose cart house on L Street. Now 117 years old, it has survived several moves and a fire house renovation. The bulb has been shining nearly continuously that whole time.

How can a lightbulb last so long? Physicists discovered the bulb’s filament is about eight times thicker than an ordinary bulb, making it extremely durable. Also, turning a lightbulb on and off significantly shortens its life. Keeping this light on 24 hours a day has helped it last.

The Livermore lightbulb is one of thousands of pieces of fire service lore tucked away in firehouses across the country. But it serves a purpose besides just historical value. It’s a reminder to each of us that we need to keep shining, too!

Your “light” is the positive energy and influence you have on your environment, both personal and professional. It’s the power to do good and leave a lasting impact. One of the challenges to keeping your light shining is that other people sometimes try to shut it off or cover it up. Typically, these are negative, pessimistic people who can frustrate your attempts to do good or tempt you to become negative yourself. Like the bulb burning at Station #6, we must be durable. We need a thick filament — a thick skin — so we can outshine the influence of negative people. Here are a few ways:

  • Turn your focus inward. It might seem counterintuitive that focusing on you can make you a better person. But we’re not talking about focusing on yourself in an egotistic way. Rather, you want to focus on what you can control. You generally can’t change a negative person’s attitude. But yours? You have control over that! Rather than reacting immediately, feeling defeated by the other person’s negativity, analyze where your feelings are coming from and ask yourself if there’s a different way to look at the situation.
  • Do the opposite. Think about all the things people who are acting negatively do — shout, gossip, insult others, frown, argue, cross their arms, stop trying, etc. When faced with these behaviors, try doing something that’s the opposite of the behavior. If Firefighter Smith is arguing about the new overtime policy, lower your voice and use calm, objective dialogue. If Firefighter Hasan says there’s no use trying to get new equipment racks for the firehouse because the budget has been cut too many times, try to think of a time when the crew came together to overcome a challenge.
  • Don’t catch the ball. In the academy we teach the rookies you don’t have to always “catch the ball” of negativity. When negativity is hurled your way, it’s easy to take it personally, to “catch” it. But more often than not, another person’s negativity isn’t really about you. Maybe the negative person is going through a dark time in their life and is dealing with stress or sadness. Stay objective and it will be easier to stay positive.
  • Be present. Our brains are designed to analyze what has happened and project forward, trying to determine what might happen. These tendencies are great for physical survival, but they can trap our minds in a cycle of negativity. Although it can be incredibly challenging, it’s important to calm your brain and stay in the moment. Focus on what is happening now. Who’s is speaking? What are they really saying?
  • Find something to be grateful about. When confronted with a negative person, gratitude might be the last thing you feel. But if you practice, it gets easier. Maybe you just take a deep breath during an uncomfortable discussion and feel thankful that it’s a beautiful day. Maybe you feel gratitude for your parents and mentors who helped you build a strong inner identity that can resist negativity.
  • Avoid negative people when possible. We can’t shield ourselves from negative situations or people, but we can limit their influence. If there’s a crew member or even a friend who is constantly bringing you down or getting you worked up, limit your time with them. Identify the positive people in your life, people who leave you feeling energetic and hopeful, and try to spend more time with them.
  • Track your triggers. What makes you feel negative? Is it talking politics? Watching depressing movies? Being around others you feel have achieved more than you? Try to determine what starts the negative thoughts churning. Awareness is often the first step in breaking the negativity cycle.

Like light filling a room, a positive attitude can lift up those around you. So the next time you feel defeated or are confronted with a person who brings you down, remember that lightbulb in Fire Station #6. It’s been going for 117 years and counting — surely you can shine another day!

“For the God who said, ‘Out of darkness, light shall shine,’ has caused his light to shine in our hearts.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:6

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif.  Sam also serves as Executive Vice President of Fire Operations at CORDICO INC.