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Firehouse Leadership

I've been the fire chief of the Walker Fire Protection Association for a little over 10 years. For a time, we were the largest volunteer department in the state of Arizona, we might still be, not sure. I have a particular approach, some of which might lend itself to any situations where you function as a leader.


    1. Make having fun a priority

    I don't know why anyone would volunteer for an organization where no one had fun. I spend a lot of time doing fire department stuff, I want it to be fun.

    2. Don't say no.

    If at all possible don't say no, don't discourage your colleagues. Occasionally an idea is so bad that you do have to say no but I try to focus on "how do we get to yes?" Sometimes you need to help an idea go from "I don't know about that" to something that can be implemented.

    3. Delegate--give real ownership of outcomes

    There are plenty of things, maybe most things, where I am not the single best resource in the department. Be comfortable and secure with the idea that people in your organization will know more than you and their handling of something will result in a better outcome.

    4. Have a genuine desire to see people succeed

    Even though we are a volunteer fire department, it can be a stepping stone to very lucrative side gigs and full time gigs. I want to do all I can to help anyone looking to go beyond responding to calls for service in our community.

    5. Have sincere regard for your colleagues well-being

    Before each training, I talk for a few minutes about diet and exercise. I want everyone to be healthy and happy for personal reasons (the other volunteers are like family) and for institutional reasons (for the good of the department). I regularly offer to help anyone who wants help making their diets healthier, get started exercising or make their exercise routines more efficient.

    6. Don't treat people the same

    We are all motivated to succeed differently. Some need more attention than others. Be able to read people so that you can motivate them accordingly. They will enjoy their experience better when you can effectively motivate them and the organization will be better off.

    7. Take joy in doing difficult tasks.

    This is a different way of saying "be willing to do the dirty work." You will lead more effectively when you genuinely want to do the "dirty work." 2 simple examples; our station house has a weed problem every August. Weeding around the building makes in look better and I genuinely enjoy getting to that outcome. Digging fire line on a wildfire is grueling work but there is nothing like the satisfaction having worked hard on a wildfire. My FD colleagues truly get how much I enjoy these tasks.

    8. Don't let them know if you're mad

    Better yet, don't get mad. Mistakes will happen and things will get broken. Getting mad doesn't make it better.

    9. Love the organization.

    My involvement with Walker Fire is one of the best things of my life. I am incredibly grateful to have lucked into the fire service. The chief from back when I joined in 2003 loved the department and did a great job instilling that love of the department, that sense of ownership in me and I try to share that with the firefighters.

    10. Always act in the best interests of the organization.

    I want the best on all fronts for Walker Fire. That means being open to the possibility that at some point, my being chief will no longer be best for the department. I don't know if that outcome will happen but it might. Ten years as chief is kind of a long time already and if/when I stop being effective, I will need to step down.

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