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Leadership Under Fire: A New Column

This is a new monthly column that will center on fire service leadership and management issues and challenges. Each month the column will use a practical approach to dealing with problems with an emphasis on prevention along with getting the most out of your personnel. We maintain that while traditional approaches to fire service leadership still have some applications, the modern fire service is 40 years behind general business and industry in how leadership is executed, along with getting the most from employees. The quest for organizational excellence requires that we are constantly scanning the horizon for better ways to lead our people. This monthly column will address the things that we see on that horizon.

Our intentions are multi-faceted and they include:

  1. To identify dysfunction in fire service leadership and suggest interventions that lead to more positive outcomes.
  2. To identify and discuss some best practices, not only among leading fire service organizations, but also in general business and industry, and applications.
  3. To bring to light effective leadership concepts, theories, and case studies in order for fire service professionals to lead more effectively.
  4. To empower fire service leaders in being positive change agents, victoriously meeting the challenges of the future.
  5. To foster an environment where we can all share in the journey of learning and practicing leadership, and hopefully in the process of doing so, show all that join us that leadership can be learned, it can be fun and rewarding, and the entire journey can be fruitful and fulfilling for all involved.

We will be writing about current conditions and issues in the fire service involving leadership and management. In our search for best practices, we will also address issues in non-fire service organizations and explore their applicability to our world. We hope to provide effective and valuable insight in order to handle perceived problems. We will also be citing the works of theoretical researchers, professors, and authors on leadership including Blanchard, Drucker, Mazlow, McGregor, Schein, Northouse, Kotter, Heifetz, Linsky, and Greenleaf; as well as real-life practitioners such as Giuliani, Welch, and Deming. All of their work will be broken down into layperson terms for application in the real world.

Each month this column will also offer readers a unique opportunity to provide direct feedback. This will be through a link to an electronic questionnaire provided by The questions will be short and the survey should only take a few minutes to complete. Data will be compiled and shared anonymously in future columns. In this way, we will be able to take the pulse of readers and their take on the written material here and on leadership issues.

In the 21st century, successful leaders need to have developed and honed numerous skills. These include the need to be knowledgeable and up-to-date, ethical, thick-skinned, enthusiastic, energetic, visionary, prescient, and courageous. All of this is not an easy task. On top of this, modern fire service leaders need to use skillful means to effect culture change. All of this can be daunting and there are numerous pitfalls. Join us each month as we tackle these issues pragmatically, incrementally, intelligently, and with great humility. It is our pleasure to serve in this capacity!

We would like to dedicate this column to the memory and legacy of Chief Charles H. Himsel from the Mount Horeb, WI, Fire Department. Commonly called “Fire Truck Chuck” he could be heard to say that as a leader, he didn’t want to be accused as being “falsely humble” or call attention to himself as a leader. Chuck was many things to many people, but mainly he was an exemplary fire service leader.

To learn more about your expectations of fire service leaders, please take a moment to answer the questions in our first survey.

JOSEPH L. KRUEGER is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the McHenry Township Fire Protection District in McHenry, IL. Joe has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Joe also has extensive experience in leadership and management in the private sector and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations. DAVID F. PETERSON is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department in Milton, WI, and a fire officer with the City of Madison. Dave has a B.S. in fire service management from the University of Southern Illinois and is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Dave is a graduate student in leadership through Grand Canyon University's Ken Blanchard School of Business and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations. You can reach Krueger and Peterson by e-mail at: