On 7 December 2009 I was elected Fire Chief by my Department. This is for a one year term for the calendar year 2010, overseeing the operation of a rural volunteer fire department serving about 2800 people over an area of 40 square miles.

As this will be my first time as chief, I’ve experienced a wide range of thoughts and emotions since the election. I had the idea that if I captured some of these thoughts and emotions and published them as a blog, they would prove humorous to some and instructive to others. Hopefully they will not be insulting to anyone.

As a newbie I plan to seek as much input as possible from others, so if you have any helpful hints or want to share your experiences, please do. I plan on publishing similar blogs as the year progresses.



12/07/09

Well, it’s official – I have been elected to be next year’s Chief of Department. It is kind of anti-climactic, since I ran unopposed for the position; but when I have a moment of down time and my mind shifts into neutral, the fact that I will be Chief next year hits home with a jolt.

The responsibilities are enormous, or at least I consider them to be. Others may seek the office to wield the power and authority of the position, perhaps even looking forward to driving the chief’s car more than anything else. For me, it is the right time in my fire service career and in the history of the Department to step up.

In our department, all line and corporate officers are elected by the active members who are eligible to vote. Being a member on paper is not enough; one has to show up to a certain percentage of drills and/or calls in order to vote. Fortunately for us, nearly all members were eligible this year – a reflection of the excellent attendance at drills and emergency calls.

Our department does not have a swearing in ceremony or installation dinner; new officers take over on January 1 of each year, so when the ball drops at Time Square, and 2010 is rung in by one and all, I will officially be “it”. I will switch the small ID plate on the front of my car from ASST CHIEF to one that says CHIEF. I will use the new radio designation, stammering over the words and numbers the first dozen times or more until I internalize it.

We will have a strong leadership team; the three Assistant Chiefs are all ex-Chiefs and I know I will have their full support. In terms of experience we have a combined total of more than 100 years of active fire service, so I am fairly confident we can do a good job.

But the office of the Chief is where the buck stops: routine member complaints, apparatus issues, internal squabbles, inter-departmental issues, to name but a few, all report to the Chief. If a resident has a water problem, or wants permission to burn a building or brush pile, or there is some type of unusual situation developing, the Chief’s telephone rings.

It will be a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job over and above my full time employment, and will interfere from time to time with my family affairs. My wife and I have discussed it and she fully supports me. She has been a Department member for longer than I, so she understands fully the importance of the job.

I’ve spent the past year as an understudy to the current Chief, acting as second in command. Boy, what a year it has been. We rang in 2009 at the scene of a fully involved structure fire in our district. We worked through a long, painful and difficult personnel issue. We buried two active life members after their sudden deaths; men that were cornerstones of the department.

Oh, and we also kept responding to calls - in fact we’re on track to set a record for the number of fire and ambulance calls our department has handled in a years’ time.

We’ll see how long it takes to get used to the new radio designation, too. I think I slipped up (or was caught at it) only once in 2009. I know my pal Joe will be listening in and keeping me advised of any tongue-slips heard over the airwaves.

Without question, my first priority will be firefighter safety and continuing to drive home the concept of “Everyone Goes Home.” I also believe consistency of command is essential for the department to operate effectively; therefore I don’t plan to make any immediate changes to the way things are done, but rather build on the excellent work of the chiefs who have served before me.

Making changes just for the sake of it, or to “leave my mark” is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. And to be quite honest, I’m quite happy with how things are running today.

We will see how it goes.

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Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 27, 2009 at 3:55pm
Joe:
Tiger can do everything he needs to do from his Blackberry.
I have watched him do it. :-)
Comment by Joe Stoltz on December 27, 2009 at 3:20pm
Thank you again for the fine compliments.

Kali, many of the VFDs in these parts handle the officer change-over in the same fashion without ceremony. I agree that there should be something more formal; hey, maybe we can incorporate a ceremony into our banquet in the spring. I'll follow Art's advice and take the credit it it goes over well, and blame you if it bombs. :0) Or is it the other way around?

And Tiger, make sure you have 46.42 (Grand Island) programmed into your command limo radio for possible move-up this way. It would be a pleasure to run some calls with you.
Comment by Oldman on December 26, 2009 at 8:05pm
I have no doubt your department is in good hands.

Congratulations Chief.
Comment by Jay Nicholson on December 25, 2009 at 11:23pm
Having read a lot of your opinions here, I will say that your department is in great hands. Congrats.
Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on December 25, 2009 at 10:50pm
Congratulations Brother -

You made it to first chair, quite deservedly. You've taken the right steps and have the right attitude to allow your people to be successful in all that they do, and in that, you will undoubtedly find your own success.

I'm only a repeater or two away if ever I can be of assistance.

Stay safe. Train often.
Comment by Joe Stoltz on December 25, 2009 at 8:10pm
Thank you for the kind words. Rusty, my predecessors have left me with some very large shoes to step into, but I'll think of something.

Thanks, Art for the very sage advice. I find that I can take the blame OK but giving praise is something I need to work on. It doesn't come naturally.

And Kevin... Kevin... were you thinking a departmental SOP or a pre-plan with automatic mutual aid dispatched once a year as a precaution?
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 25, 2009 at 10:56am
Joe:
Congratulations.
Someone as contemplative as you should certainly handle the duties as chief with few problems.
Advice: spread the credit, take the blame, protect your people even from themselves and make a difference in the critical situations.
Your department will be successful and move forward with your guidance.
Another white hat joins the ranks, which is very cool.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Rusty Mancini on December 25, 2009 at 10:31am
Joe, or I should say Chief, after reading your testament your attitude is right where it needs to be. Unless your department is in need of a major adjustment with things like, safety, PPE, or vital equipment to operate efficiently.

Not all departments can make a transitional change with smoothness as in your case, to which your fortunate to have been able to do, and that makes it nice! Now what can you bring to the table that will enhance, what sounds like an already class A department?

Congratulations are in order, on your new position!

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