Effective Chief Fire Officer Behaviors

When asked about why they got into the business, most firefighters will say it was because they wanted to help people in need. For many of us, whether this was our true reason for choosing this career, the focus quickly shifts to how much fun and how...


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Another important component of the last course was to develop a personal plan complete with future goals. We were tasked with reflecting, over the course of several days, on our lives and taking stock in where we stood, our beliefs and where we want to go with our future. This activity was not just centered on our careers, but on the holistic view of our lives as they relate to professional, personal, family and community life. Then, with a balanced life-view, we were to write our plan that would chart the future.

For many of us, this process involved a great deal of deep thinking and honest self-assessment. Personal soul-searching prevailed as we exposed our strengths and weaknesses and then completed the forms in the plan. With few exceptions, our plans revealed that we could all be better balanced when it came to the areas of family and even community involvement. That was where the setting of the NFA came into the picture.

The campus of the academy is situated on the south end of Emmitsburg, at the base of the foothills to the Catoctin Mountains of the Allegany Mountain range. The rolling hills are picturesque, tranquil and even calming. Emmitsburg itself is a small town with one busy road going through that is lined with rowhouses and shops right up to the sidewalks. The local volunteer fire department, Vigilant Hose Company No. 6, sits in the center of town, protecting its residents since 1884. On the same road and adjacent to it is the center of the community: the Ott House Tavern.

The Ott House became a natural backdrop to our academy experience for a variety of reasons: It became our stopping point after each of our bike-ride forays into the mountains. And, it was soon obvious to us that it is an important meeting place for the people of the area. In this respect, the Ott House became a needed diversion from our classroom studies and paradoxically became a focal point of the life plans we were writing.

You see, the Ott House is a place where people meet to talk, to socialize, to eat and to keep in touch with each other. We, as occasional guests, merely breeze in and out every year for our two-week visit as students at the NFA. But in reality, we were fortunate to be a part of the fiber of life of this community for a short while. Why? Because it helped us focus on what we were missing in our lives when we held a magnifying glass up to our own behavior and life activity.

Witnessing how the townspeople would come in every day and interact reminded us that we need to be more a part of that dynamic back home. We came to know some of the townspeople ourselves and interacted with them. For example, we met a young man named Raymond, who told us of his passion for the fire service and how he relishes his service to the Vigilant Hose Company. We saw how the owners, Bobby and Susie, watched over people. It was readily apparent to us that this is so much more than just a business to them.

Our experience at the NFA reminded us that the fire service and the fiber of life are inextricably woven together. We simply cannot have one without the other. It seems we are symbiotic. We depend on one another and we do well to remember that our business is all about serving the public. It took the fine people of Emmitsburg, and the reflection on our life plans, to arrive full circle and recognize that.

The next article in this series will look at employee motivation through traditional means and more innovative and humanistic approaches. It will also detail how the development of your organization’s vision, mission and values can be completed collaboratively.