At a recent seminar, the class was engaged in a discussion concerning the characteristics, traits and behaviors they most value in their leaders. They eventually described what probably constituted the perfect leader. As the discussion wound down, one student announced that he wants a fire chief...
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There's no doubt that the buck usually stops with the fire chief, and it's great that fire service members have such high standards by which they judge their leaders. However, if there is the expectation that those leaders jeopardize their own positions, the well-being of their families and even their futures, then members of fire departments must do all they can to support their leaders in the face of such severe retaliation. There are going to be more of these situations in the future. Consulting firms smell dollars and they are teaching seminars, conducting podcasts and producing studies that recommend significant reductions in fire department budgets that will absolutely diminish public safety and firefighter safety. Their efforts also include a renewed emphasis on transitioning to public safety departments by combining fire and police personnel and assigning the employees to share the two roles.
The public trusts their firefighters more than any other public servant. Members of fire departments typically have significant influence in their communities. Using this influence and public trust to prevent anti-public safety consulting firms from being brought into your city would probably be a good investment. If that's not possible, then using that trust and influence to protect fire department leaders who take them on becomes a must.
If we truly value fire chiefs who have the department's back (and we should), then we owe them a level of support when things get tough. It's a legitimate question to ask: Who's got the chief's back?
DENNIS COMPTON, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including the When in Doubt, Lead series. He is also co-editor of the current edition of the ICMA textbook Managing Fire and Rescue Services. Compton was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and assistant fire chief in Phoenix, AZ, where he served for 27 years. Compton is the past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee. He is also chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors and the chairman of the Home Safety Council Board of Directors.