Firehouse Interview: Gregory B. Cade: The New U.S. Fire Administrator

Firehouse Magazine Contributing Editor Charles Werner interviews Fire Chief Gregory B. Cade, incoming administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security.


On May 25, 2007, the U.S. Senate confirmed Fire Chief Gregory B. Cade to be administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security. He succeeds Fire Chief R. David Paulison, who is now the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Cade, a...


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CADE: I think my greatest fire service accomplishment has been the small part, and it was a very small part, that I played in helping to take the Safety Committee and turn it into the Safety, Health and Survival Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Firefighter safety has been an extremely important issue to me throughout my fire service career and helping to broaden that base of support from a very small group of people into now a very large section has had an impact on firefighter safety and, hopefully, will continue to do so as the section grows and continues to bring in more innovative and creative ideas.

FIREHOUSE: What was your most disappointing experience(s) in the fire service and why?

CADE: I think the most disappointing thing for me in my fire service career really has been the criticism that comes with being the chief of the department and not that it is aimed at me because I realize that that comes with the territory, but I think the impact that it had on my family. They didn't sign up to be in the fire service nor did they sign up to be the fire chief; I did. I have seen the pain in their eyes when for whatever reasons, whether it's people or other organizations, have done or said things and portrayed me in a manner that didn't match the truth. I think all of us who sit in positions of chiefs of departments recognize, unfortunately, that comes with the territory, but I think its effect on my family has always been the most disappointing part.

FIREHOUSE: Following 9/11, how did your life change professionally and personally and why?

CADE: The events of 9/11 changed me both professionally and personally because of many reasons. The first was the fact that I had the opportunity to be at the Pentagon shortly after the attack and then to go up to the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, I lost personal friends when those towers came down. People that I had worked with in the New York City Fire Department and had come to be my personal friends and professional colleagues. I guess the way that it changed me was to recognize how unprepared I was as a chief of a major metropolitan department to even think about something like that being possible.

From a professional standpoint, it forced me to begin to take a much broader look at what were the potential impacts to the City of Virginia Beach. What were the things that I needed to do to prepare the officers and firefighters of the Virginia Beach Fire Department? For me personally, it was seeing the utter devastation and walking through the Pentagon at 3 o'clock in the morning or Ground Zero in the evening, and watching the firefighters dealing with that horrible situation, never giving up and never straying. They worked diligently to make sure that if it was possible that anyone was alive that they were going to save them. I was extremely proud to be up there at the Pentagon and see firsthand, my dear friends in the Arlington County Fire Department and the chief officers there and what they were doing and especially to see firsthand Virginia Task Force 2 at work. The look of resolve on their faces throughout that horrible situation and the inventiveness and creativity that they brought to that unbearable situation was nothing less than remarkable.

I think it's impossible for any of us in the fire service to look back at the tragedies of those days and say it didn't change all of us. Their heroism inspired us to be a better firefighter and reminded us to hug our loved ones a little bit tighter, more often and always strive to make a difference.

FIREHOUSE: Is there anything that after looking back that you would change or do differently? What and why?

CADE: When I look back over my 39-year career, I am sure there are things and mistakes that I made that, in hindsight, I wish I had not done, but more importantly these were opportunities where I learned and grew. One thing that I have learned is that this is the best job that anyone could ever have. I have been extremely fortunate to have spent my whole adult life doing what I love to do — being a member of the fire service and having a chance to make a difference in people's lives. I know many people who go to work at jobs that pay a whole lot better and have better benefits than what I made throughout my fire service career, but I don't think anybody ever had the enjoyment and fulfillment that I have had being a member of the fire service.

FIREHOUSE: Working within the federal government has its unique challenges. How will your personal relationships help to create a positive working environment?