New Fire Chief? New Advice

Earning the fifth bugle is a great accomplishment for a fire service professional. Now as the Chief, you are the final decision maker, the buck stops at your desk.

Listed below are some of the steps a new chief should consider:

• Review all current standing order. Issue a memo that all current standing orders will remain in effect until changed by memo or general order. This simple by effective item can prevent problems and issues related to the transition of leadership.

• “Where I come from, we did it this way.” This is a common mistake and can negatively affect your creditability.

• Learn the culture of the organization, once the culture is understood, if you feel change is required, explain the change to your executive staff, and ask for input. Once the change is published to the membership use your executive staff, along with yourself to explain and lead by example.

• Allow for imperfection in people, but not in operations. Focus on excellence in operations. The department personnel will respect this above almost everything anything else.

• Network with other department heads throughout the city.

• Network with other local emergency service departments surrounding your jurisdiction

• Learn about your firefighters and staff. Whenever possible, have one-on-one conversations about the organization, operations, leadership, personnel, administration, ethics, planning, etc. Utilize the “Manage-by-Walking Around” practice to learn and get the pulse of the department.

• The hardest thing to do as a fire chief is to work through others to get something done, even if you could do it quicker and better yourself. Early on engage your executive staff. They are a great resource for you to utilize to improve your department.

• Increase your knowledge base. Three books I recommend a new chief should read are:

  1. D.C. Fire by Chief Dennis L. Rubin
  2. Rube’s Rules for Leadership by Chief Dennis L. Rubin
  3. It’s Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff

As chief, you’re responsible for every action of the department, even the ones that come with negative consequences. It’s an unbelievable opportunity to make a difference, but it also means you and you alone are responsible for the department. Utilize you network that you have developed throughout your career. Peer from the National Fire Academy and other have been there, use their council as needed for advice.

Most importantly, as Chief it is your responsibility to provide the highest level of service to your customers, both internal and external.

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