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What I Wish I Knew When I Became a Fire Chief

I think one of the biggest lessons to be learned as a new fire chief is the saying - “it’s not what you know but who you know that’s important.”

Long before social media became the preferred method of communication, there were those face-to-face meetings that provided our networking methods.
Learning how to build and engage your network of acquaintances effectively is very important to your career development. Networking can become a way of life. When Leslie, my wife, attends events with me, she almost always remarks about me “working the room.” What she means to say is I will go over to see people I know but also people I don’t know to expand my circle of friends and acquaintances. I would always exchange business cards with those I didn’t know. 

A networking system is the process of continually meeting people. The process can have reasonable expectations that are mutually beneficial. Through networking, we can extend our reach to get things done, share our knowledge and capabilities, and connect people to one another.
Networking gets easier the more you do it. Years ago, during every Fire-Rescue International Chief Jack McElfish created the “lobby gang.” Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder, Chief Richard Marinucci, Don Manno were the members. Chief McElfish would never take me off probation, so I don’t know if I ever really made it to be a full-fledged member of the “lobby gang.”
The “lobby gang” would sit in the main conference hotel lobby. We met old acquaintances, and we met new ones. And we met lots of people that would sit down with us and discuss a variety of fire service issues. It was a great time but also a fantastic networking system that eventually helped me to be elected as IAFC President in 2001.
What I have learned through the years is that people help people they know and like.
When you meet a person that you want to become part of your network, there are considerations on how you will grow the relationship and how you can be a resource to them. Networking is a two-way street. You give, but you also receive. What you give to each other has to create something of value. The value can be tangible or intangible. Learn how you can help each other achieve your goals. How often you speak to each other depends on your needs and the size of your network.
As you build and maintain relationships, you will find that when you need to find the best source for information or help, your network contacts will be the “who you know” who can point you to what you need to know – fast.
John M. Buckman III is a retired fire chief who has served as the IAFC President 2001-2002, theVCOS Chair 1990-1999, and currently is the VCOS Education Coordinator
This article was provided to the iCHIEFS News by the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section.

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