IAFC: What does it mean to you to be honored as 2018 Fire Chief of the Year?
Leusch: What an amazing honor! Being honored by my peers is the highlight of a career – like winning an Oscar or Heisman Trophy in the fire service! At the same time, it becomes the new benchmark and building block from which to launch further improvements. I am grateful for this honor and look forward to keep serving my fellow men and women for as long as God will allow me.
IAFC: What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of?
Leusch: Just making it to fire chief is an amazing accomplishment! Leading with empathy has allowed me to succeed in an environment that is not always nurturing. Providing ballistic protection to crews, putting in service an award-winning ambulance, purchasing an ATV through a creative fundraising effort are some accomplishments I’m proud of that are somewhat outside the box.
IAFC: Who has been the most influential person inside or outside the fire service on your success? Why?
Leusch: My wife. Nobody tells you how to be a chief; you get promoted and you are in charge. Now what? Despite not having any fire-service expertise, my wife is the voice of reason when I need advice, a comforting soul when I feel down and an inspiring force when I need to get something done.
IAFC: When was your most difficult time or challenge in the fire service and how did you overcome it?
Leusch: The most difficult situations to overcome are the emotional scars of seeing people suffering, especially children. I recall an early morning basement fire at a house while I was a junior company officer. The night before there was a storm, and the power was out. A group of teenagers had assembled for a slumber party and used candles for illumination.
You can imagine what it was like, arriving on scene with heavy smoke showing, making your way into the basement and pulling the screaming teenagers from the burning building. Nothing can prepare you for that. You will need to have faith in God for keeping you safe and for giving you the mental toughness in the face of those types of adversities.
IAFC: What advice would you offer new or emerging leaders in the fire service?
Leusch: The best advice I have is to empower your people. Good ideas can generate at every level of the department. Rather than assuming that you have all the answers, be open to suggestions from your rank and file. There must be a reason why you hired them; now it is time to cultivate the grassroot efforts that will bring the fire service into the future.