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Chief, Begin Your Day by Asking the Right Questions

It Only Takes Two

As a fire chief, I choose to serve because it makes me happy. It’s really that simple. I’m happy, and I love to make other people happy. It is not possible to serve others without receiving benefits from it. Therefore, I feel lucky that the work I chose to do results in personal interest. With every work decision I make, I ask myself two questions: Is it good for the community? Is it good for my members? If I can answer “yes” to both questions, then I know I will make someone happy in their day. These questions help me stay focused on why I am here and how I can make a positive impact. It’s a simple process that allows me to filter through a day full of decisions.

There are so many things a chief must decide in a day, so I start with simple questions. It doesn’t mean I don’t revisit an issue when I arrive at two NOs. Sometimes that is part of the challenge. How I turn a NO into a YES requires its own decision-making process. I have heard it is easy to tell how happy someone is by the amount of compassion they show others. Happiness, compassion, service to others…I thought we were talking about decision making?

I was recently at the National Fire Academy and had the opportunity to speak with a fire service legend. He asked how the job was going. I told him I loved every minute of it, but there are definitely some difficult decisions to make. He smiled, nodded his head, and reminded me about the difficult choices fire chiefs have to make. He said fire chiefs don’t make easy decisions. We choose between bad and terrible. We don’t get the luxury of choosing between good and bad. When I explained to him the two questions I asked myself, he nodded in approval and gently reminded me of my new scale between bad and terrible. It’s not that all of the decisions are bad or terrible. But there are days when it’s tougher than others to find the good. He continued to tell me that it is the human qualities of a fire chief, such as compassion, happiness, empathy, and even love, which support the decisions we make and allows us to find solace in our final outcomes.

You don’t have to be a fire chief to make difficult decisions. We have them at every rank. When it comes time to make a decision between bad and terrible, ask yourself: Is it good for the community? Is it good for the members? Take those answers and allow yourself to entertain a human approach to find your outcome. Use your compassion, empathy and personal experiences to find a better solution and possibly make someone happy, or maybe even yourself.


Chief Trisha Wolford, EFO, CFO, CFM, is the fire chief of the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Fire Department where she started her fire service career in 2006. She is completing her master’s degree in Management and Leadership and is the liaison to the NFA for the Executive Fire Officers Section.

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