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Finding Solutions Is in Our DNA; Is It in Yours?

America’s fire chiefs are a breed unlike any other in our nation. Every day, we're charged with understanding the risks associated with our communities and designing and operating skilled and talented groups of individuals to respond to those community events that need what we do. We assess, we measure, we design, we build—we use all the talents groomed over decades to achieve that instinct.

It's this instinct we use to guide us throughout the day, the week, the year and our tenure as chief. Along the way, we partner with a trusted pool of others like ourselves to guide us and to help us affirm our instincts. That pool of people like us—those others who do what we do—has a long and rich history of finding leadership solutions to national issues; they're the foundation the IAFC was built on.

In other words, it's in our DNA; it influences how we conduct ourselves as the top tier in this industry.

As the leading association dedicated to finding leadership solutions for the fire and emergency service and setting the backdrop for our pathways, the IAFC established the National Programs and Consulting Services department to enhance the environment by leveraging the talent within our pool. Let me set the stage by framing how I ended up as the chief programs officer/assistant executive director of the IAFC and formerly the director of National Programs and Consulting Services.

Beginning my journey as the son of a volunteer fire chief, I joined the local department as a senior in high school, which led to a career with an emerging suburban fire and rescue department. I was fortunate to have assignments not only in the station as a firefighter and technician/engineer, but also in prevention (investigations and inspections) and training. I had assignments as a company officer and in staff assignments on apparatus. And I served at the division-chief level as chief fire marshal, chief of administration, chief of operations and chief for support services, which included communications and training.

I was then fortunate to be able to achieve the coveted title fire chief in a neighboring department, and I was privileged to sit in that chair for a decade. Starting early in my career, the IAFC helped to guide and frame the environment for finding solutions and building a network of peers. I used this network to design and implement the solutions for problems I encountered in the areas I was charged to manage and operate. My solutions were vetted and framed by a vast network of peers long before the creation of the social networks in place today. Reaching out to find fixes was easy; it was made so by the foundation created in 1873 that we now call the IAFC.

After retiring, the urge to give back to my peers and our community of fire chiefs was growing. After giving it careful consideration and gaining the support of my family, I joined the IAFC staff and team at headquarters. At that time, National Programs was being formed and staff was being assembled to design and implement programs national in scope to “increase fire service capability” and to focus on three key areas of our industry: fortifying the response, supporting the effort and improving the health and safety of our firefighters.

Each day in National Programs has been a day of discovery. Opportunities to help fellow fire chiefs with pathways of success and designing new and exciting programs continue to energize me every day. I find that each and every day is a day that fulfills that goal to make a difference. Now looking back after six years, I have found that it was in my DNA from the very beginning and that connecting the dots is the best aspect of being a firefighter, a fire officer, a chief officer and the fire chief.

Designing platforms for operational effectiveness is the main goal of National Programs. We have a multitude of programs, ranging from hazmat response to wildland programs. We operate safety programs such as the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System. We focus on multidisciplinary collaboration through programs like Training for Regional Collaboration and the Intra- and Interstate Mutual Aid Programs. We work with not only career departments, but also volunteers through the SAFER Recruitment and Retention programs and through the Hydrogen Fuels and Education Research Project that started with the need for better training for volunteers.

We offer solutions for all aspects of the fire service and beyond.

Due to the sheer breadth of programs, every day I wear a different hat and advocate for each program while also seeking out new program opportunities. I’ve gotten to know the inner workings of our federal government through the relationships we have with various agencies—from FEMA and the Department of Interior to the Department of Transportation and others. No day is the same as any other and juggling the responsibilities as assistant executive director, while rewarding, is also very challenging.

Luckily, I'm not alone. I'm supported by about 20 dedicated staff members and numerous contractors who help implement and execute our programs. While I have a very competent staff, there are times when they need a vision; they need to see the bigger picture. My role has been to provide these. I make sure that the solution sets they're creating are relevant and are what the fire and emergency service needs. I help connect the dots.

Anyone considering the assistant executive director position needs to be innovative, flexible, a good communicator, willing to travel, a leader and motivator, problem solver and  connected with the federal government and the response community.

Over my six years in National Programs, I’ve worked hard to create a fun, yet productive work environment. I’ve learned that if you create an environment of trust and respect, you get the most out of staff. We often have department luncheons, BBQs, retreats and other events that help create a family-type atmosphere. We have a department that genuinely cares about each other and the work they do. It's hard to find another group in an office environment with so much camaraderie.

It's now time, however, to start a new chapter in my life—the one called retirement. So the chair I’m in now needs someone who has "finding solutions" in their DNA—someone who's willing to be part of the effort to set the tone and vision of our ever-changing industry and to play a key role in the national, not local, environment.

Is finding solutions and designing and implementing programs in your DNA?

Ed Plaugher is the IAFC’s assistant executive director, National Programs and Consulting Services. Kelly Ameen is a project manager in the National Programs department.

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