At many leadership-training programs conducted by the IAFC, new chiefs have indicated that when they walk into the office for the first time, they often feel unprepared. The education received in colleges and universities and other fire service curriculums provided many leadership tools, but not the knowledge of how to effectively apply the tools. Many fire chiefs said that when they stood in their offices for the first time, they thought, "What do I do now?"
The Fire Service Executive Development Institute (FSEDI) is designed to answer this question and to fill this gap in the education of new fire executives. With the support of a grant from Motorola Solutions, the IAFC has implemented this cohort program to introduce new and aspiring chiefs to the real world of being the chief executive in the fire service.
In March, 20 fire chief officers—6 relatively new fire chiefs and 14 chief officers who are currently aspiring to or preparing for fire chief positions—came together as part of FSEDI's first cohort program. They went through an intensive six-day session, hearing from practitioners in such subjects as identifying personal values and mission statements, developing political acumen, what it's like to be a new chief from outside the department and coming up from the ranks within a department. They also participated in sessions on data and analysis, labor-management relations, ethics and servant leadership.
The presenters included experienced and relatively new fire chiefs, elected officials, public administrators, union officials, executive coaches and executives from private industry. They focused on their real-world experiences, relating what strategies worked and lessons they learned from their actions.
A common thread throughout most sessions was the importance of relationship development, being politically astute and open communications.
In addition to daytime sessions, cohort members participated in team building and networking programs each evening. The program ended with the members working with a personnel expert on how to be successful in applying for chief positions.
On KnowledgeNet, a community set up for the cohort will help members maintain contact and use their network to exchange information, consult on issues and support each other on situations that arise in their jobs. Members are also taking advantage of mentors and occasional conference calls to assess their professional growth.
The first FSEDI group will reconvene again in August following Fire-Rescue International (which they're all attending) in Chicago for a two-day session. The last meeting of the cohorts will take place in December. The group networking and support will continue as the group finishes projects they're working on to give back and enhance the fire service.
The program will be evaluated based on the success of the cohort members in achieving their career goals, being successful in their positions and their contributions to the fire service through engagement and involvement beyond their fire department.
Funding is being sought for a second cohort program. A select group from the first FSEDI has taken on the challenge of finding a source of making the Institute self-sustainable. They're doing this in order to offer many more aspiring fire executive the opportunities made available through this program.