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Diversify Your Experience

When you signed up to join your fire department, I’m sure you had the same vision I did – that you would help those in need at each response and you would be dressed in tough-looking bunker gear, wielding any of a variety of rescue tools. Yes, that was the dream, and it lasted for some time. As the tours went by, 24 hours at a time and experience grew with each response; those tours turned into years. These years turned into how you expressed your time on the job, which in turn tells others how much experience you have. 

Somewhere along the way, many of us desired to do more than respond to singular incidents. While that component remains relevant and vital, we wanted to manage incidents and processes. The cycle of experience in this realm repeated, tours turned into experience, and that turned into years. 

Once we gained confidence in managing operations, some realized they had become well-versed in operations and wanted to administer a bureau of the department. Naturally, the first to seem a natural fit would be operations/suppression. The second may be training/professional development. In the mix also is the EMS bureau. 

However, the bureau that seems to be the least natural fit for someone who spends their career training to put out fires, tend to injuries and rescue people situations is the prevention bureau. 

I have had the fortune to serve in several capacities and work with some wonderful people. I served ten years in operations, followed by ten years in the training division. My last assignment was to administer our training and EMS programs. 

I held that assignment for five years when the chief called. His call was to inform me that he was transferring me to lead our risk-reduction division. Fortunately, our environment is quite upbeat, and I accepted the assignment with open arms. 

My intent is not to relay my resume to you; it is quite simple to illustrate that I gained a great deal of experience in operations, followed by tremendous administration experience in bureaus that bring significant challenges. 

None of this truly prepared me for what I was to find behind the door of the risk-reduction office. 

One year into this assignment, I am writing to suggest that you, your officers, future officers – virtually everyone in your organization – would benefit themselves and your department by working in the prevention bureau. 

Assignments are what you make of them. The best assignments involve two ingredients: 
  • The person is optimistic about the assignment. 
  • They receive full administrative support to drive the program. 
  • Likewise, two components will doom an assignment from the start: 
  • The person takes an assignment only for promotion. 
  • They do not receive full administrative support in their assignment.
What I have come to appreciate most about an assignment in risk reduction has been the amount of interaction I have with the community. This interaction occurs daily and those I interact with a range from planning commissioners and special oversight committees to professional groups. There are also one-on-one sessions with people who want to plead their case to change how a code is applied in their development. 

Mostly what I have learned from this assignment is the amount of effort required to be familiar with codes while at the same time building relationships with the community. It is important to encourage development, but it has to be done safely and as efficiently as possible. 

If you had asked me five years ago if I would want this assignment, I probably would have scoffed at the question. After meeting all of the community stakeholders and getting my feet under me (it does take a bit of time), I can tell you that this assignment came along at just the right time. 

My goal is to impress on any of you who have not served time in your risk-reduction bureau that you certainly should. You will have many opportunities to enhance your awareness of what your department does behind the scenes. I cannot believe how many processes and interactions I was ignorant of while in the field. 

This experience should not be limited to the few; all should share it. It will enhance your abilities and awareness as an officer at any level, and it is undoubtedly a must for those of you who want to pursue a five-bugle position. 

Go ahead; diversify your experience.

William Hyde, EFO, CFO, CEMSO, FIFireE, is the deputy chief of community risk reduction for the Rogers (Arkansas) Fire Department. He serves as vice chair of the Executive Fire Officers Section’s Board and is a member of the IAFC On Scene advisory board; he’s been a member of the IAFC since 2009.


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