Very rarely is leadership founded in the belief that success is bred only through teamwork and unity.
But for the past seven years, Collingswood Fire Department has operated under that very premise.
"I'm a firm believer that the men make the chief who he is," said Collingswood Fire Chief John Amet, who will retire after 25 years with the department—seven of which he acted as chief—on Dec. 31. "It's not about me. It's a whole department. We're a team."
After two years volunteering, Amet was hired as a Collingswood firefighter in December of 1986, at the age of 20.
Amet continued to move up the professional ladder, becoming captain, and—in October 2004—replacing former fire chief Mike Hall.
"It was always easier to be captain; to slide your problems up," said the 45-year-old. "Then, when you're sitting at the top, everything becomes your problem. You go from being one of the men, to being in charge of them. You have to slip away from your friendships a little bit, because you're the boss. I'm looking forward to rebuilding a lot of those friendships in retirement."
Born and raised in Collingswood, Amet grew up on Virginia Avenue, attended school here, and eventually decided to base a career in the borough.
With its unavoidable exposure to tragedy, living the life of a firefighter in his own hometown yielded some emotionally-challenging obstacles over the years.
In 1984, after responding to the scene of a fatal motorcycle accident on Browning Road, Amet learned the deceased was his best friend from childhood. Amet was also deeply affected by a house fire that took the lives of a 5-year-old boy and his father, with whom Amet went through school with.
"The calls we answer are tragic. But a lot of times, they begin tragic and end with some positivity. We get a lot of thank-you letters from residents we've helped," he said.
Amet also dealt with a personal crisis outside of the fire house in 1997, when his son, Johnny, was diagnosed with cancer.
"That was a difficult thing to deal with while trying to maintain my job," he said. "I never got a chance to say thank you to many of the (firefighters). They helped me and my wife immensely. That's when brotherhood was strongest here."
Today, Johnny is making his father proud, following in his footsteps as part of borough-based Explorer Post 161, which trains youth in the process of becoming a firefighter.
"I thought it would be cool to become a fireman and help people, like my dad," said the 15-year-old Collingswood High School freshman, who is one of Amet's three children.
But his son is not the only one bearing deep respect for Amet.
"He is a family guy, and always considered all of us part of his family," said 9-year Collingswood Firefighter Stephen Reustle.
At the station, Firefighter Matthew Skowronek said his boss enacted an open-door policy.
"If something was bothering you, you always knew you could sit down and talk to him about it. It didn't matter what it was about—family, friends or work—he was there for you. You could call him in the middle of the night," he said.
Amet, according to Collingswood Fire Lt. Edward Glaze, earned respect that firefighters won't soon forget after their chief retires.
"He takes this job personally, and he's going to be missed," said Glaze, who has worked with Amet for 13 years. "It's a big loss for us. The loss of a lot of knowledge, the kind of stuff you just can't teach."
In the midst of these kind words, six-year borough firefighter Kevin Ehret voiced a profound statement about the chief's character.
"That's a guy you follow into a fire and know you'll come out safe," said Ehret, as the roomful of firemen began nodding in agreement. "He would never ask us to do something that he wouldn't do himself."
Firefighters said their chief has worked tirelessly to better the department—securing equipment like a ladder truck, squad engine, an ambulance, brand-new rescue tools, and a new fire hose.
Amet was also a driving force in creating the Collingswood branch of national cancer fundraiser St. Baldrick's Day.
In the place of his absence, Amet will be leaving behind a large pair of shoes to fill. But the chief's last days are not clouded in doubt.
"(Current Fire Captain) Keith Davis will become chief on Jan. 9, 2012," said Amet of his successor. "The department is being left in good hands. Keith is very knowledgeable. He's young, but he's ready."
Besides relaxing at his Mullica River campground, retirement will bring Amet a new title: Pop-Pop. Amet's daughter shared news of her pregnancy on Christmas.
"I want to thank my wife—who had my uniform ironed and laid out every day for 25 years—and my children, for putting up with all the missed meals, holidays and family functions, " he said of a firefighter's sacrifices. "I believe this is the last noble profession, and I'm proud to call myself a firefighter."