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Diving In: A New Chief's Perspective on Assuming Leadership

How does it feel to reach this point in your career?

Being selected as the new chief has been a huge honor—more than I can describe really. And it's been an enormously exciting and rewarding experience. If I'm being honest, it's also a little bit terrifying!

What advice or guidance has served you well during your transition?

A retired department-head from another county agency was right when he told me that no matter how prepared you think you are, you never really know what it feels like until you're sitting in the chair and feel the full gravity sitting on your shoulders of being responsible for so many people. For me, that weight is made bearable because the quality of people in our organization is so high and because I trust my leadership team.

Who were some of your influences for pursuing this job? What inspired you to pursue your professional development and take opportunities to move forward?

Like many in our industry, I was inspired by my family and the people I've met during my career, including other firefighters, officers and chiefs. But I was especially lucky because through my involvement with the IAFC, I got to know some exceptional professionals from within our field.

Anecdotally, we hear that many firefighters and company officers today are reluctant to seek out senior leadership positions. What was your decision process like and why did you ultimately decide to keep climbing the professional ladder?

When I was a company officer assigned to an engine company, I felt I couldn't be happier with my personal situation. I had a great crew, we worked in a busy district and I was comfortable. I suspected that if I pursued a promotion, it would put me on a path that would lead out of operations and into administration—it turns out I was right.

I knew it would be a decision that would remove me from my comfort zone and challenge me to take on much higher levels of responsibility. For that reason, I had chosen not to apply for the promotion. Then I had a conversation with a fire chief from the IAFC's Wildland Fire Policy Committee, and he really challenged my thinking on this. He spoke to me about how I had a different kind of duty to my organization and to my community.

We sometimes perceive individuals who seek promotion as being selfish or overly ambitious. I believe sometimes—not always, but sometimes—it's actually more selfish to stay in the lower rank despite knowing you can do more for the organization. Taking a promotion should be a humbling and slightly scary experience, because each time you move up, your duties to the organization, to the community and to yourself are magnified. Each level requires you establish higher standards for yourself—as a servant, as an example to others, as a help to others on their leadership journey. It requires you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Clearly, you had the support of friends and mentors during this process. How have others in the fire and emergency service influenced your career path?

Thanks to the IAFC, I was lucky to observe the behaviors of some of the most progressive and respected fire chiefs in the United States. But I also learned from the hard-working, honest, compassionate people in my own fire department. That's why having the chance to look at other fire chiefs as peers and to lead in my department is such a high honor.

You’re not the type of person to sit back and relax. Now that you sit in the chief's chair, have you thought about what comes next? Any new goals you’ve set?

My personal goals now have nothing to do with me personally—but they have everything to do with making sure Henrico Fire achieves the highest success in serving our community. My new position will hopefully allow me to more effectively mentor and challenge others in the organization to take on new responsibilities and to move up the ladder.

I have goals of finding new ways for my organization to contribute to the growth of the fire service in Virginia and nationally. I have lots of dreams for this organization to achieve and hopefully the time to see some of them through to reality.

I will always miss riding that busy engine company. But the rewards of this new job are at a whole different level. I highly recommend it to anyone who's willing to carry the burden with honor.

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