As you go through your career, you are going to see some changes in the top of your department. In a 30 year career, you will probably see five or six different people in charge of your department. Most departments call the top guy the Fire Chief, others might call the boss a Fire Marshall or Commissioner, but they all do the same thing. These guys are responsible for the overall operation of the fire department. They make most of the decisions that create the goals and mission of your fire department.
New Fire Chiefs can come from within your department, or they can come from outside your department. There are some pros and cons for both of these options.
Traditionally when a department looks for a new Chief, they look at the upper administration of their own department. Deputy Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, and Battalion Chiefs are the usual candidates for the top job. It seems like a logical progression because a lot of these people have worked closely with the Fire Chief and have probably shared some of those responsibilities in the absence of the Chief. They have all worked together and had a lot of input in the management of the fire department.
When the next chief comes from your department, things pretty much stay status quo. You might see some minor changes. We had one Chief that did nothing different other than change a fog nozzle on a ladder pipe with a straight stream nozzle, and never change anything else. There are a lot of reasons for this. Mainly it is because they bought into the decisions that make up the department.
One thing that will stay the same with a chief from within is the already established pecking order. Every department has a few people that are considered the most logical to be promoted, and also a list of people that aren’t looked at so favorably. Sometimes a reputation can follow you an entire career, whether or not you deserve it.
Today it is more acceptable to find the next Chief from another department. I guess it must have something to do with people thinking that the fire department should be run like a corporation. They all want the guy with the most education and the most certifications. Education holds a lot of power if you want to be a Chief. If you get a new Chief from the outside, he will likely have a big degree and lots of certifications.
When a village administration is looking to shake up a department and get a new look, they will look outside for Chief. It is hard to make big changes in a department when you keep bringing in people that have been brought up in the fire service with the same vision as you are looking to change.
No matter where your new Chief comes from, you will see some changes in your department. There are always those guys that have to be the Chief’s buddy so now they have to start to build that relationship all over. Some older traditional firefighters will resist the outside Chief. Even if they didn’t like the outgoing Chief, they still see it as an outsider coming to change everything they have built in their career. Just like any other time in your career, just keep doing what you believe in. Don’t change your opinions just because there is someone new around with 5 bugles.
By John Morse
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