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Thread: Fire Department Elections.

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    Default Fire Department Elections.

    CaptnJak is gonna love this one.

    Well, I just got back from the monthly business meeting. It was elections tonight. We elect a captain every year, and they serve for three years. The treasurer and secretary are elected every year. The Chief and both ***. Chiefs are appointed.

    I have said for a while now that our captains should be appointed at the pleasure of the Chief, but the dept. likes to elect them. I guess they get to pick who they want to lead them.

    Well, they picked me.

    It was difficult for me to accept the position. The fellow I beat had been a captain for 15 years but wanted out badly. He would have accepted the position if no one had run.

    Here I am a brand new shiny captain and I am not sure I agree with the process that got me here. It can kind of turn into a popularity contest, maybe that is why I won. Or maybe they voted against the other guy.


    What do youse guys think? Should elections be done away with?
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    I think that the "validity" of elections is heavily dependent on the culture of that department.

    By default, all elections are popularity contests, the question is why the winning candidate is popular. Are they an able fire officer, or are they the life of the party?

    A "social club" fire department is probably going to elect a socially popular person, regardless of his/her qualifications.

    A department with an established system of officer progression will, by default, elect a qualified person, albeit the most popular.

    Even the appointing of officers can be fraught with danger if the appointing body/person doesn't use qualifications as the basis of their decisions. An independent fire company, which might contract with the municipality, has no governing body, as such. A town or village fire department usually has a municipal board or council of some sort that they answer to and which would make the appointments. This is where a department with a strong officer training program will excel.

    Unfortunately, for many fire departments all the officer training is OJT, save the occasional formal officer training course.

    Some years ago we had a chief who held the office for something like 13 years. I never met the man, so I can't offer any opinions as to his qualifications or abilities. I've heard it all but took a stick of dynamite to get him out of office. I know that I've worn a white hat a few times more because no one else wanted the job than because I was qualified for the job.

    Should elections be eliminated? For some it will make sense. For others, maybe not.

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    I always liked having requirements to hold a position, and those that meet those requirements are able to run for the position. Our membership them decides who, of those running, they would like to follow. Poplularity? Yes. But having a leader that no one wants is gonna lead to a leader with no one following his lead. If multiple guys are qualified and running, why leave it up to 1 Chief to decide which guy gets it as opposed to all the guys who that guy is going to lead deciding?

    But, you have to have and follow requirements.
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    I guess a way to start any change, is to review any bylaws, your department has. You may want to check how elections are handled and any qualifications (Fire Officer I, etc.) that are needed to hold officers positions.

    If there are no qualifications for officers, it may be time to adopt some requirement(s). Of course, you should offer the opportunity to members to attend any training, that would be required (Fire Officer I, etc.). You may also adopt certain experience requirements, such as "5 years of experience", etc., too.

    Check on what requirements your state may have, if any. You can use those requirements to back up any needed changes, that you want to adopt in your bylaws.

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    We are assuming, (dangerous word!) that your department is volunteer in nature. There might be two opposing points of view. The first is that you did accept the position of elected Fire Captain. You could have respectfully turned it down for any number of valid or not so valid professional or personnel reasons.

    So ... no matter where you go, there you are, Captain. The second point of view is that even a volunteer fire department has no business in todays world ELECTING fire officers. Just my opinion only. Sounds like a democracy or mob rule which is NOT a good way of running an agency dedicated to public safety.

    Finally, you might or should have seen this coming. It might have been a good plan to think all this through and make a decision, one way or another BEFORE accepting the election results. But ... that is now water under the bridge and right now you must do your best with the duties and honor given you. Me only.

    HB of CJ (old coot)

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    Quote Originally Posted by HBofCJ View Post
    We are assuming, (dangerous word!) that your department is volunteer in nature. There might be two opposing points of view. The first is that you did accept the position of elected Fire Captain. You could have respectfully turned it down for any number of valid or not so valid professional or personnel reasons.

    So ... no matter where you go, there you are, Captain. The second point of view is that even a volunteer fire department has no business in todays world ELECTING fire officers. Just my opinion only. Sounds like a democracy or mob rule which is NOT a good way of running an agency dedicated to public safety.

    Finally, you might or should have seen this coming. It might have been a good plan to think all this through and make a decision, one way or another BEFORE accepting the election results. But ... that is now water under the bridge and right now you must do your best with the duties and honor given you. Me only.

    HB of CJ (old coot)
    Some volunteer fire departments/companies are non-profit incorporated organizations, that provide (contract, etc.) fire, rescue and or/EMS to counties, cities, townships, etc.. That is how they are formed and operated versus a statutary established city or county fire department. If the legal governing body is a city, etc., then the city council could dictate the leadership.

    Since the non-profit departments/companies are autonomous, they chose their own leadership. Is it perfect? Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. As for government (city, etc.) operated fire departments, funding usually comes from the general fund. Fire protection funding competes with non-essential services, such as bike paths, splash parks, dog parks, hanging flower pots, etc.. Unless a government entity is a fire district or emergency service district with dedicated funding for emergency services, you usually end up doing fundraisers.

    Where I live, some volunteer fire departments have had to break away from fire districts, cities, etc. to provide their services. The people on the fire district board, city council, etc. would not help (funding, etc.) provide fire and rescue services. Also, our county politicians keeps any money available to fund the chair jobs at the courthouse, when the volunteers recieve little or nothing. Therefore, since the volunteers do grant writing and fundraising, they formed non-profits to keep the funding from being hijacked by their county.

    If we had the right people in the positions, things would work fine. Hopefully, we will get there someday.
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    Okay, I have placed my Kevlar helmet on, properly adjusted my flak vest, and have dived deep into the bunker for the heat I am sure I will bring down upon myself for this opinion.

    In the vast majority of cases elections of officers is one of the biggest frauds perpetrated upon the volunteer fire service. Many places have absolutely no standards for being elected an officer other than you convinced people to vote for you. Many departments end up with legacy leaders that get elected for no other reason than their Grand Dad, Dad, Uncle, Brother, or Mom was an officer.

    The volunteer fire service needs educational and experience requirements for officer positions just like career departments have. Maybe not exactly the same standards, but it is ludicrous to elect officers that have nothing more than the minimum training and education required to be a member of the department. Once again many volunteers want to say they are the equal of career firefighters and yet they do nothing to make that true.

    Set minimum standards for every promoted position, if you don't meet those standards you aren't eligible to be elected, appointed or whatever process you choose. To my mind it should be a competitive process with applications, resumes, testing and a practical scenario based element that includes more than emergency situations. Things like personnel issues, conflict resolution with firefighters and citizens, budgeting, and pub ed should be included.
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    Our association elects officers, but that is for the association, NOT the fire dept. itself. The association is more of the fundraising and service side of the dept., not the funding for operations and equipment. I think if a dept. elects fire officers, there should be a minimum training and service time requirement appropriate to the rank. The higher you go, the more requirements you must meet. It would automatically require some motivation on the part of the potential officer. I'm still not a huge fan of that way of appointing officers.
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    Good discussion.

    It is a tough position to be in.

    The captain I replaced could not wear an air pack anymore. He has a bad back and knees.

    He wanted out.

    What the hell are we supposed to do out here in the sticks?

    I suppose the best thing to do is shut her down and go career. There have been places in the state that have done that.
    Last edited by conrad427; 01-10-2015 at 02:26 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conrad427 View Post
    Good discussion.

    It is a tough position to be in.

    The captain I replaced could not wear an air pack anymore. He has a bad back and knees.

    He wanted out.

    What the hell are we supposed to do out here in the sticks?

    I suppose the best thing to do is shut her down and go career. There have been places in the state that have done that.
    If the funding is there , of course the best thing to do is go career. Really you appear to be taking this personally - no one is saying you aren't qualified to be a captain, you might be the best "choice" --But to answer you question about what to do out in the sticks , is not let location or lack of $ be a reason not to try in operate in as professional manner as possible. Change has to come gradually -how about you implement some training and attendance standards to be eligible to run for officer ? Then maybe down the line suggest a point system for officers ? So many points for a score on a written test/ hands on test/attendance % ? You can also include a "black ball provision" to weed out the loose cannons.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conrad427 View Post
    CaptnJak is gonna love this one.

    Well, I just got back from the monthly business meeting. It was elections tonight. We elect a captain every year, and they serve for three years. The treasurer and secretary are elected every year. The Chief and both ***. Chiefs are appointed.

    I have said for a while now that our captains should be appointed at the pleasure of the Chief, but the dept. likes to elect them. I guess they get to pick who they want to lead them.

    Well, they picked me.

    It was difficult for me to accept the position. The fellow I beat had been a captain for 15 years but wanted out badly. He would have accepted the position if no one had run.

    Here I am a brand new shiny captain and I am not sure I agree with the process that got me here. It can kind of turn into a popularity contest, maybe that is why I won. Or maybe they voted against the other guy.


    What do youse guys think? Should elections be done away with?
    I guess my position on this is already known. Obviously not a fan.

    I realize many departments are deeply entrenched in systems such as this. I think others have made good suggestions as far as at least having the candidates meet certain qualifications before the election. Volunteers face the same situations as full time paid officers do. The training should be similar. It should also be very thorough. I don't pretend to have the answers as to how volunteer departments get this training accomplished. FDNY is up to about five 40 hour weeks of training for new Lieutenants. Impossible for volunteers. Unless they are independently wealthy.
    Considering the challenges faced by volunteer departments these days, it may be time to go full time paid or combo across the board.

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    I started in an officer election FD and was promoted by popular election to positions I had no business being in at the particular time. On the other hand, many/most of the other candidates had less business due to lack of formalized training, to few fires to develop true quality experience, so maybe it was the best we could do at the time. I think there are many places just like this today.

    While I'm not a fan of elections, there are worse systems: appointed officers with no/minimal minimum standards and no testing. In a perfect world, everyone must meet a minimum qualification to apply to be tested for any position. As close as you can get to this with your process the better you'll be. Elections in general lead to officers with questionable validity. Then throw out any minimum standards and forget being viewed as "professional" by any definition.

    As far as I'm concerned having minimum standards and testing at every level is the greatest divide between career and POC/Volunteer FD's. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the members of the organization being truly prepared for their assigned duties.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conrad427 View Post
    Good discussion.

    It is a tough position to be in.

    The captain I replaced could not wear an air pack anymore. He has a bad back and knees.

    He wanted out.

    What the hell are we supposed to do out here in the sticks?

    I suppose the best thing to do is shut her down and go career. There have been places in the state that have done that.
    What are you supposed to do out there in the sticks? The choices are pretty simple really; 1) Accept the status quo that sometimes, actually more often than not, gets people elected as officers that have no business being officers. (NO, I am not talking about you.), 2) Become the activist that pushes for standards, and a process, to approve people for promotion. Number 1 is easy, number 2 can be a real B itch, especially if no one else supports the idea.

    While I have managed to get minimum standards raised in my #1 POC FD to be a firefighter I have not yet managed to get that idea moved to the officer promotional process yet. We still elect the Chief and A/C and the chief appoints company officers. Right now we have 2 company officers with Officer 1, FF2, Instructor, and Driver operator certification, and 2 with FF1. Among the other things I am working to change officer promotional standards is still on my list!
    Last edited by FyredUp; 01-10-2015 at 05:39 PM.
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    I've had the chance to serve in a number of different volunteer organizations during my time on earth, which has given me the chance to see both systems work: the election of, and the appointment of, company officers. In my humble opinion only, electing the line officers is a bad idea.

    With the election of the line officers, it often becomes a situation where one of the following three people is elected:
    - the nice guy
    - the popular guy
    - the guy who won't make any waves

    The needs of the company aren't always addressed properly, simply put.

    Some people will argue that allowing the chief to appoint his company officers allows him/her to simply put their friends in the position(s). Yes, that is a risk. But the onus falls on the membership to elect a chief that will put the needs of the fire company ahead of popularity and friendships. The right people for the job should be selected, vetted, appointed, and then evaluated throughout the course of the year to ensure that the chief's and company's expectations are being met.

    I do wholeheartedly agree that minimum qualifications should be in place for promotion, and the fire company should give the encouragement and opportunity for the prospective officers to get the required training.
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    BA187 - You missed one option - The Guy who will take the Job (many times not one of the other three).

    That's what happens in departments where no one wants the responsibility of being in charge, or the person who does "run" the fire department (the opinion leader) again doesn't want the responsibility. That ends up meaning that the chief is mostly a figurehead who gets to do all the work, but gets little or no respect for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    BA187 - You missed one option - The Guy who will take the Job (many times not one of the other three).

    That's what happens in departments where no one wants the responsibility of being in charge, or the person who does "run" the fire department (the opinion leader) again doesn't want the responsibility. That ends up meaning that the chief is mostly a figurehead who gets to do all the work, but gets little or no respect for it.
    And that is one of the many tests a chief will face -a good chief will "deal" with the opinion leader head on. How he deals will depend on his style of leadership.
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    Elections for fireline positions are alien to me.

    I'm used to volunteer departments filling line positions similarly to career departments with a "hiring panel" and qualifications ultimately decided by the chief or perhaps fire council for those places that have one. Positions of leadership for the association (president, treasurer etc), elections make sense as that is how most such organizations are run.

    When I hear elections I picture the hokey school elections for class president or prom king / queen. There are bad example of volunteer "hiring" panels that rubber stamp based on popularity or chief approval too, so I guess I shouldn't judge elections without more information.


    How functional the department is probably plays a bigger role on its leaders than how they are determined. A good ol' boy club is going to tend to promote good ol' boys whether elected or appointed. A department that places a lot of weight on training, experience and track record will tend to place quality individuals into leadership positions whether they are elected or appointed.

    An issue with many volunteer services is the people with the time to devote to the organization are not always the most qualified. Do you want the most qualified guy who can only make maybe 6 hours a month, or a minimally qualified guy who can give 30 hours a month?

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    It might seem like I am taking it personally, but really I am not. I feel a bit overwhelmed about the obstacles our dept. faces. In the time since I have joined we have enacted and enforced training, response, and attendance standards. The standards for Captain are a bit lower. You just need three years on to qualify. I have been sent to leadership training that the State pays for. That is outside training that is not offered in our dept. I was the most qualified to take the job, aside from the current captain, who wants to retire. As crazy as that sounds. Our Chiefs can veto an election and they have say in the nominations.

    I tried unsucsessfully last year to create a LT position. Fire fighter to Captain is a big step and I figured LT would be a good taste of leadership for the guys. No way they said.

    At one time every position was elected in our dept. Now the Chiefs are appointed. We have good chiefs thankfully.

    It is not a deep candidate pool out here. Out of 19 members, three are chiefs, three are captains.

    Good discussion fellers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conrad427 View Post
    It is not a deep candidate pool out here. Out of 19 members, three are chiefs, three are captains.
    And therein lies a major problem in the many small fire departments out there - by the time you come up with two or three chiefs, maybe a captain for each company, and perhaps a LT under them, you've got no firefighters. Everyone is an officer.

    We have an "engineer foreman." While technically fourth in command, it's not really a command position. This is the guy who's supposed to make sure the rigs are in fighting trim - mechanical work done, state inspections, etc. But it's an elected position, as are the chiefs, so if no chiefs are around, there's one more person who is designated to be in charge.

    We had some captains and lieutenants, but the current leadership hasn't kept up with them. They were never really command positions, anyway. More like truck foremen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    BA187 - You missed one option - The Guy who will take the Job (many times not one of the other three).
    You're exactly right. I'm lucky that we've never been put in that position in any of the agencies that I've been with.

    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    We have an "engineer foreman." While technically fourth in command, it's not really a command position. This is the guy who's supposed to make sure the rigs are in fighting trim - mechanical work done, state inspections, etc. But it's an elected position, as are the chiefs, so if no chiefs are around, there's one more person who is designated to be in charge.
    When I assumed a chief's role many moons ago, we had a situation kind of like this. The assumption and/or expectation was that if you had extra responsibility around the firehouse, then you were an officer as well - no matter how qualified/certified you were as a company officer. It was a bit of an "award" system for assuming the responsibility. We ended this practice, and made sure that competent fireground commanders and leaders were serving as officers. We chose to recognize those who went the extra mile through public recognitions, awards during our annual banquet, etc. Some 10 years or so later, this continues to work well for us.

    Contrast that to a nearby department who has a "Captain of Buildings and Grounds" who barely passed Firefighter I.
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    Quote Originally Posted by conrad427 View Post

    I tried unsucsessfully last year to create a LT position. Fire fighter to Captain is a big step and I figured LT would be a good taste of leadership for the guys. No way they said.

    Good discussion fellers.
    In the end, would a lesser title have changed the responsibility the person faced? After all most of the ranks between firefighter and Chief of the Department are very dependent on the job description for that particular organization. In many small departments I see, you often have leaders and followers and the titles mean much less than their command presence.
    Last edited by RFDACM02; 01-11-2015 at 10:28 AM. Reason: key board caused misspelled words
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    In the wild land side of things a basic firefighter is an FF2. A class and a physical test are all that is needed.

    A very small step up in leadership is FF1. This position is someone who works directly for a Single Resource Boss, and is the assistant on an engine or a squad leader. That was kinda my idea for the LT position. An entry level officer to help with span of control issues and training duties. You have to have a colored hat in my dept to have any responsibility. I asked why I could not get a senior man to help at an incident, and was told they cant because of hat color.

    I agree that command presence is not dependent on the color of hat.

    EDIT> Lacking any kind of mentoring program, (IE. officers wanting to keep the knowledge to themselves so someone else dosent know more than them) The LT was the best I could come up with.
    Last edited by conrad427; 01-11-2015 at 12:42 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tree68 View Post
    And therein lies a major problem in the many small fire departments out there - by the time you come up with two or three chiefs, maybe a captain for each company, and perhaps a LT under them, you've got no firefighters. Everyone is an officer.
    In a smaller department, there is alot of work to do and not many members to do it. Sometimes "officer" positions are created to give some authority to a member to carry out certain duties. You obviously have to have a Fire Chief, Training Officer, Safety Officer, etc. for the operational side. For the support side, you may need an apparatus maintenance officer, building maintenance officer, secretary/treasurer, fundraising chairman and the like.

    To fill all the hats, whether operational or support, you need training for those positions. Obviously, a banker or CPA could fill the secretary/treasurer position, because of their financial background. For the operational positions, it is important to have those current or prospective officers attend Fire Officer I, NIMS and other revelant trainng. If you have members that can attend the National Fire Academy, encourage them. I attended there once and would recommend it to everyone.

    If your department is not offering the training to your members, now is the time to do so. If your bylaws do not specify certifications and experience to hold certain positions, its time to do so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FIRE117 View Post
    In a smaller department, there is alot of work to do and not many members to do it. Sometimes "officer" positions are created to give some authority to a member to carry out certain duties. You obviously have to have a Fire Chief, Training Officer, Safety Officer, etc. for the operational side. For the support side, you may need an apparatus maintenance officer, building maintenance officer, secretary/treasurer, fundraising chairman and the like.

    To fill all the hats, whether operational or support, you need training for those positions. Obviously, a banker or CPA could fill the secretary/treasurer position, because of their financial background. For the operational positions, it is important to have those current or prospective officers attend Fire Officer I, NIMS and other revelant trainng. If you have members that can attend the National Fire Academy, encourage them. I attended there once and would recommend it to everyone.

    If your department is not offering the training to your members, now is the time to do so. If your bylaws do not specify certifications and experience to hold certain positions, its time to do so.
    I don't think there should be mixing of titles or ranks. The building maintenance person doesn't even have to be a firefighter. Maybe you can find volunteers for that within the community. They get to help out without actually joining the firefighter ranks. There could be many reasons why a person would do one but not the other. Calling a guy Captain of Building Maintenance" cheapens the title of Captain, IMO.

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    As others have said, you may as well try and make the best of the situation by adopting and implementing minimum standards. As FyredUp stated, though, it can be a real b*tch to get others to be willing to make the right changes.

    As an aside regarding span of control issues, imagine this: on my department, we have 36 members. There's 1 Lieutenant, 1 Captain, 1 A/C, and the Chief. We have 3 engines, a truck, a squad, a brush truck, and a tender. Yeah, not even enough officers to have one per unit. Fun stuff.

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