Essential Elements of Fire Service Leadership

Leadership comes in many forms, modes, readings, writings, actions, reactions, and educational opportunities. Our challenge should really be to bring ourselves, our followers and our organizations to the right place at the right time.

It is not rocket science; heck, even rocket scientists know they want the rocket to go from point A to point B. However, in the fire department our paths and destinations are less defined but still riddled with dangerous possibilities of danger. ‘failure.

It is essential that fire chiefs focus on four essential elements to keep moving forward, in the right direction, all for the greater good of the service and the community.

It is essential that fire chiefs focus on four essential elements to keep moving forward, in the right direction, all for the greater good of the service and the community.

It is essential that fire chiefs focus on four essential elements to keep moving forward, in the right direction, all for the greater good of the service and the community. (Photo / Getty Images)

Follow the path of successful leaders

These four guiding positions can help leaders gain the respect of their members, connect with other leaders, and serve the community to the best of their ability.

1. Do what I say AND as I do! Unfiltered and spontaneous demonstration is the simplest and most sincere leadership trait. This is the “I will never ask someone to do something I won’t” approach. Do you participate in physical training with your firefighters? None of us should be naive enough to think that I am suggesting that this is an everyday affair – you definitely need to spread our thoughts. However, physical standards and fitness expectations shouldn’t be just “for the troops”. Whether it’s exercise, operational training, speed of feedback, moral behavior during and off duty, wearing seat belts, observing traffic control devices or simply In general professional behavior, it is essential that leaders demonstrate the actions they expect from those who work for them. project.

2. What do you think? How often do you ask for the opinions of others or just solicit their feedback? Again, there is no expectation on my part that this is constant action; however, there should be a regular and open opportunity for give and take or questions and answers with the leader. Choose the mechanism that’s right for you: email, online surveys, face-to-face planning sessions, station tours, newsletter solicitations, community events, “listening sessions”. Either way, having a regular opportunity for interaction, connection, feedback, and just allowing others to be heard will go a long way in building your leadership system. You probably often hear someone say, “I have an open door policy”. And yes, that’s part of the discussion. But I remind you, and I have advised others in my day, that even though you have an open door policy, you still have a door and it is important that you use it every now and then!

3. A politician, a fire chief and a leader enter a bar… The punchline: they’re all the same person. You can espouse any style of leadership you choose – the beauty of living with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. As such, keep these points in mind. First of all, I have already pointed out that as a fire chief you ARE a politician whether you like it or not. Second, remember that the right to choose your leadership style does not exempt you from the potential consequences of that choice, so choose wisely! The first step in a successful fire chief role is learning your political process (e.g., what it takes to get projects, who actually runs what), and then determining what makes these three things work: your service, your community AND your politicians. As you hone your role as a politician, you hone your leadership skills whether you realize it or not.

4. Lead, follow, or step aside. Whether you are presenting a program, attending a training session, working in the field at a convention (or working on a ZOOM call), talking to the media, listening to the troops, developing a safety culture, developing a training program. fitness, community meeting, attending a regional chiefs meeting or just sitting behind your desk, your people expect YOU to be the leader. “Drive, follow, or stray” doesn’t mean you always have to be the one in front of the camera or the only person in charge of a scene, or even the only person who can have a clue. “Lead, follow, or stray the way” means that you must be prepared to do some or all of these things at some point. The greatest challenge is demonstrating the ability to lead from the front, back, over, under or far – when and where the opportunity presents itself.

Let yourself be guided by the personal tetrahedron

It takes physical strength, mental toughness, and moral focus to be successful in this endeavor. The job of a fire chief is certainly not for the faint of heart. Our mission – the basis of our personal tetrahedron – requires that each of the other sides of your character and abilities produce positive results. And your personal exercise side of the tetrahedron will be needed to navigate the harsh environments you will be faced with over time. Take the time to build your tetrahedron, demonstrate your ability to lead, to ask questions, to listen, to massage the political environment and then, ultimately, to lead, follow, or get out of the way – there are things we need to do. !


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Richard V. Johnson