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“The Dozen That Make the Difference” presented in this series represent character traits a person should possess to be a good candidate for fire chief or for moving up in rank within a department. Please remember that the traits presented in this series are the “important list” according to me. I didn’t put them into any particular order and there are more preparation steps you can take to succeed as a fire-rescue service leader.
The ninth trait a fire chief must master is to be involved in the community. You need to get out and be seen in every area of your community. People generally like their fire chief and want to see him or her at various events. I try my best to make at least two community meetings per week (mostly evening meetings – on the customer’s schedule, not mine). Typically, there are many opportunities with faith-based groups, neighborhood organizations and civic clubs that will provide a great venue for the fire chief to be in the community.
While making civic fire and injury prevention program presentations, I have had the platform to answer community-based questions about how we deliver services, with a recurring theme being “Why does a fire truck show up when I called for an ambulance?” What a great way to learn (first hand) what the community thinks about their fire-rescue department and learn new ways to make the operation better. The fire chief can’t get better feedback and input (even from the best top-dollar consultants) than from the citizens the department serves. Over the years, I have developed an informative civic program that is available to Firehouse® Magazine readers by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
A closing thought about presenting fire and accident prevention information is that we must continue to focus on prevention as our first line of defense and not our last, or as an add-on service. You can say you read it here first, but the best fire or medical call is the one we can prevent.
10. Departmental Involvement
You have to be involved in all phases of your department’s activities. You need to see and be seen at all types of fire department events. Sounds so simple, but it is sometimes overlooked by the chief. I try my best to visit at least one fire station per week, at a minimum. Generally, it is an informational visit and I skip all of the pomp and circumstance, the idea being that I do have a first-hand understanding of what is going on out on the streets and what the needs and issues are of our members.
There are formal ways to have structured feedback, such as labor relations meetings and various functional committees, which are critically important. However, sometimes that unvarnished truthful input by the front-line members is invaluable. In one department, I was approached by an entire shift. The purpose of their discussion was to make an operational suggestion to greatly improve the “out-of-service” hydrant-marking systems we were using. Earlier that day, the lieutenant had the battalion chief express concern that the company had missed a hydrant on an earlier alarm. When the lieutenant saw a plastic ring on the hydrant, he made the reasonable assumption that it was out of service. Prior to this company’s improvement suggestion, we used a white plastic ring that marked both “In Service – Needs Repairs” and “Out of Service” and of course the hydrant was marked “Needs Repairs” that day. The suggestion was painfully simple, logical and easy to implement. We changed to a red reflective metallic ring (“Out of Service”) and a green reflective metallic ring (“Needs Repair”) and the hydrant-testing program was greatly improved.
Those of us at headquarters would never have thought about this improvement, but what a great suggestion it turned out to be for the department. I would never have learned about this issue without being in the fire station. I understand that adding more work (station visits and activities) to the responsibilities already placed on a modern-day chief is significant, but the value far outweighs the effort.