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Stepping Up to Lead

It’s Tuesday morning, August 24: as I’m sitting in the Denver airport, destination Atlanta, I’m thinking about my responsibility as a new leader in the fire service. I’ve recently been appointed as the chair of the Professional Development Committee for the IAFC, and I’m about to lead my first committee meeting.

I’m feeling overwhelmed with thoughts of not being worthy of this title or the responsibilities that come with it. But in my heart, I know I love the fire service and I sincerely want to make it better, and I have been given a great opportunity to make a difference! You should know, I’m a humble firefighter and fire chief and this is a role not familiar to me, but I fully understand its importance and the responsibility that comes with it.

Fast forward to August 25, meeting time: it’s 10 AM and we embark on introductions and the normal formalities of this type of meeting. As we introduce ourselves—chief officers from all across the United States—I can’t help but wonder, “Why are we here? What is our motive? What difference will we make? What is the purpose of this get together?”

As we go around the table, continuing introductions, I’m reminded of the exceptional talent and experience of this group and start to wonder, “How can I leverage the expertise of this group to influence the fire service? How can we, as group, make an impact to the greater good of this great profession?”

We discuss fire service leadership and what that means to our group and profession. There’s a variety of definitions of leadership and thoughts about our purpose, which adds to the diversity of our group.

Despite the many ideas about leadership, we all agree there’s much to be accomplished in promoting fundamental leadership within the fire service. Our committee leadership strongly believes that promoting self-awareness and personal responsibility is the key to future successes of our future officers.

Many in the fire service have described the company officer as the “weakest link in the chain” regarding fire service leadership. I don’t believe this!

My question is, “Why does that responsibility stop with the company officer and not the chief officer?”

I wonder some more: How have we as chief officers diminished the impact of our middle managers? Are we standing in their way? Are we part of the problem? Are current chiefs developing our future leaders as expected?

During our meeting, we discussed the value and impact of the IAFC’s Officer Development Handbook and its value in developing future officers. The handbook outlines the recommendations and the value of educational and professional development criteria for future officers, ranging from supervising officers to executive officers. It was revised in 2010 and is used as the foundation for promotional guidelines and opportunities for many fire services organizations throughout the country.

While all the chiefs of the IAFC Professional Development Committee supported the use and framework of the Officer Development Handbook, I was surprised to find that many of these leaders don’t use it as part of their promotional or officer-development criteria in their own departments. This is something I hope to change, and I challenged these leaders to review their internal promotional requirements to ensure they’re upholding IAFC initiatives.

So I leave you with this.

Current and Future Chief Officers: We must commit ourselves to something of relevance. Maybe it’s to improve the fire service or maybe to improve the standards of promotion, but either way, we must practice what we preach. If we’re willing to spend our time promoting a theory or thought, we must also commit to seeing it through.

Will you be a leader of action or a leader of discussion?

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