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Editor's Letter - You never know who’s listening to you!

Posted 3 years 89 days ago ago by Admin

I have a friend of 30 years, who’s a former firefighter colleague. We do not see each other much, but we stay in touch. Recently, he texted me: “I have a friend that I would like to network with you for a post Coast Guard helicopter pilot career. I believe he flies Jayhawks now. Can I give him your number?”

Naturally I told him yes, as I never turn down someone seeking career advice. Agreeing to such requests has been a theme in my career and has happened several times per year over the course of my 36 years of work experience. Sometimes it was related to my military or fire-rescue experience, but the majority has centered on my time flying helicopters.

I have always been a fan of mentorship, whether it be ‘one-off’ interactions with aspiring pilots seeking advice, or more formal, structured mentorship programs similar to what I have done with organizations like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and HAI.

As time goes on and these interactions stack up, you start to see the impact as people randomly reach out and give updates on their career progression and thanking you for the advice you gave them, or how you inspired them to take some sort of action. These interactions always give me a good feeling.

Twenty-seven years ago, I lived in South Florida and was a firefighter for a local fire-rescue department and flew helicopters on my days off. My wife was a sixth grade math teacher at the time. She asked me to speak to about 150 students and relate how I used math in both my jobs as a firefighter and a pilot. I gladly did it and interacted with many of the kids.

Out of the blue, I received the following correspondence last month: 

“Good evening Mr.Burks! I had a math teacher in sixth grade with the same last name. Her husband was a firefighter who flew a news helicopter part-time. I am a Rotorcraft Pro subscriber and I see that you were also a city firefighter and flew for Channel 12 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Any chance that guy and you are the same guy? Sincerely, Ron B.”

I replied, “Yes! That's me.” He then replied:

“You may not remember, but you came to class once to talk about your job as a firefighter. I volunteered and you dressed me up in your bunker gear. I thought that was pretty awesome, but I thought the fact that you flew helicopters was more impressive! I had an unhealthy obsession with helicopters since early childhood. I felt compelled to pass that along...I was beyond fortunate to end up in the industry many years later. It's a testament to the fact that pilots have an undeniable influence on aspiring future pilots. Thank you for taking the time to reply!”

Today, that gentleman is a law enforcement pilot flying the Bell 407 and Bell 429. It’s a great reminder that we are all ambassadors for our industry and you never know who is listening or being influenced by you!