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11. Develop Members
Perhaps the second most important responsibility a fire-rescue officer has is to develop his or her members to take on more responsibility within the organization. The first priority is the safety of the members and that “Everyone Goes Home” from every alarm. But just behind that looming duty is the responsibility to develop your people to be all they can be on and off the job.
The difficult part is being sure you reach out to everyone in an equal and fair way. The best foundation is to operate a great training division that provides all types of information to all members all of the time. Besides selecting the best management team for your organization’s training staff, the chief must make sure the budgetary resources are in place to sustain a comprehensive training effort. In the times of depressed government revenues, this is tricky. A lot of departments are using online and other computer-based training programs to keep costs under control. Great idea, but the overall approach should be comprehensive from recruit training to retirement planning. Consider all delivery methods to build the best training system possible.
The fire chief should not overlook the vast external training programs that are famous for developing personnel for more organizational responsibility. Many great training programs are available at a reasonable cost and provide more than a good return on investment. Among the places to send your people for advanced training programs are the National Fire Academy, Naval Post Graduate School and Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program. Don’t forget your state and regional fire academies as well, because it will take many different forums to develop members to their full potential over careers that may last 25 years or longer.
I’m not sure where I heard this quote, but it is so appropriate: “If you think training and education cost an organization a lot of money; check out the price tag on ignorance.” In the days when just about everything we do has the potential for legal action (suing someone for something), training becomes a corporate must instead of a nice to-do function. Think about it!
The final item on my list of important traits for a fire chief to possess is to be effective at networking. When I speak of networking, I am using the term in its broadest sense and referring to all aspects of the process, so that the chief is connected within the department, within the community, within the region and within the American fire-rescue service. It is difficult to keep up with all of the changes occurring on so many levels.
Used effectively, networking should greatly improve the information and understanding a chief may have on an issue or problem. It would be wonderful if everyone could master everything about our business. Knowing that is not possible, a great replacement is to network with a wide variety of people to provide input for decision-making and planning purposes. Perhaps one of the best ways to gather the mission-critical data needed for any decision is to have an effective network of people from which to refer. The wider the networking circle, the more sources of information are available. The trick of this trait is to select people in your circle who are well informed and capable of providing you with good insight.