Do you think fire chiefs are expendable?

FireRescue1 Staff

Year in and year out there are spate of fire chiefs either fired or coerced to resign. This occurs in large metropolitan fire departments, small rural departments and all stops in between.

Whether promoted from within or hired from outside the department, a new fire chief is, at least in the short term, a disruption. Some departments need a disruption, as when the late chief Thomas Carr took over the Charleston (S.C.) Fire Department following the Sofa Super Store fire.

For other departments, the value of a disruption is less clear. When you step back and look at the issue, it begs the question that we put to our readers: Are fire chief's expendable?

What do you think? Keep the conversation going by adding your comments below.

"No, a fire chief is never expendable. They are needed in the department to provide not only leadership and management, but they are also invaluable to the rest of the department to share their knowledge and experiences. A good chief will always be there for his crew, look out for and fight for them and the department. You may not like the person who is chief, but you need to respect the title." — Sean Corrigan

"Trick question. The role of chief isn’t, but in a lot of departments the position is by a popular vote and not skill. There are a lot of chiefs that shouldn’t even be a captain let alone chief. If the position is based on training and testing, it’s deserved." — Pat Rourke

"They can make or break the department! So, the answer is no." — Greg Jeppson

"My fire department has had the same fire chief for 27 years and we have yet to fall behind or lose track of today's firefighting and safety standards. If you have the right chief in place, let them continue on. There's no need to put a time limit on something that is good and is working out." — Jeremy Chance

"No, chief's aren't expendable, but the inadequate ones should be fired a.s.a.p." — John Herlihy

"It depends on the chief. Some are worth their weight in gold while others aren't worth the price of the protective radio they wear around." — Justin Waalkes

"In one sense, yes. If a chief has allowed themselves to let new innovations and safety developments pass them by, then it's time for new leadership. Stress becomes more of a factor after time as well. However, a chief who takes the initiative to continually learn while keeping their firefighters safety as a priority, experience is not expendable. In fact, experience is the best teacher and should always be utilized." — Gary Schlotterbeck

"As far as individuals go, everyone is expendable and replaceable." — William C. Boyd

"As a chief, I’m compelled to sound off with a resounding “no!” However, I have seen too many in the position that should not have been there." — Kyle J. Ward

Comments - Add Yours


  1. Good Chiefs that truly want the best for the department and all staff under them are few and far between. Those Chiefs are not expendable. These days there are not to many Chiefs like that.

  2. Chiefs run the chance of being irrelevant if they don’t keep up with changing trends in safety and training. The last thing you want to do is become stagnant. Stay in touch with the people who count, the firefighters climbing ladders and on the end of the hose line.

  3. Over the past few decades the hallowed position minimalized and degraded by the action and attitudes of those who often are the ones who made the appointment in the first place. As governments come under increased pressure to manage tax payer resources they are tending to scape goat public service. They decry the salaries that they negotiated and benefits that are dictated by state and federal requirements. On the volunteer side they bemoan the costs to support moral and participation of a departments members and then whine when turnout suffers. As thing go bad and the physical assets decline where does the bean counting politician point the finger? At the Fire Chief. They always say its his agency to manage and that the Chief has their support. But does he? The Fire Commissioner, The Mayor and the Town Councilman can only see as far as the next election, consequently they have no stomach for an independent and principled Chief Executive who may disagree with their assessments and decisions at an open meeting. So what is the bean counters answer, hire promote or appoint a YES MAN, not a Fire Chief. The self serving politician with his bully pulpit of blame and shame is gutting the Fire Service in our United States. They starve are increasingly starving us financially and appointing Chiefs who are inconsequential. A strong, dedicated Fire Chief is never inconsequential, he leads, he grows the department and sets a course for the future. He Fights for what he believe is right for his men as well as the department. But this man is becoming an endangered species in America as is the elected official with the confidence and sense of responsibility to appoint such a Chief.

  4. In the most basic context of the question the answer is obviously no. Being a para-military organization with a rank structure and due to the critical nature of our work, leadership is essential. Although no individual is irreplaceable, the position of Fire Chief should not be viewed as one that is easily filled, occupied or replaced.
    Selection is the most important aspect and the necessary time, trouble and consideration should be taken to ensure the right person at the right time for the circumstances is appointed. Selection should not be solely based on qualifications. How will the person be able to establish trust, respect and credibility with department personnel, community leaders and citizens. How effective will they be in setting the direction, supporting the operations, programs and members of their departments. These are the questions that can’t always be answered in a resume.
    I think departments, city managers, mayors, elected leaders, labor groups and the community should desire a Fire Chief that desires and is prepared for a long tenure. The stability that this provides can be beneficial for all stakeholders. Continual transition at this key leadership position doesn’t provide for needed direction and in some cases has led to regression in terms of quality service delivery.

  5. Reality is that in small departments, chiefs tend to be field centric and in large departments, they are political centric. The ones that earn their weight in gold fall somewhere in between. Ask any city manager if the fire chief is expendable and they will say absolutely, they can replace them with someone else. Ask any floor firefighter that works for a good chief and they will say ‘No Way!’. Ask any chief if they are expendable, and they SHOULD say they wish they weren’t needed, but because we’re human, they are.

  6. There is no doubt that the position of Fire Chief is essential to any fire organization. That being said, it is also essential to find the Fire Chief who is the “best fit” for each organization, since all fire departments are different. The political aspect of the position is separate from the organizational aspect. Finding a chief who can do both well is very hard. I think it is important to hire the right chief and keep them as long as they are productive. If governments hire and fire chiefs at will, it creates instability in the organization and it stifles growth and progress. It really takes about 3 years for a Chief to learn his new job, yet many are lucky to last 5.
    Bottom line, find the right fit and keep them as long as they are leading the organization in a positive direction. Do not take change lightly.

  7. I agree with everything sad here, but when the mayor and city council decide the chief will not play the game by their rules they seem to think he is expendable…. Happen to me in a small combination dept, I would not let a certain person back on the VFD after he resigned, then wanted back on. The council then decided they didn’t need a paid Fire Chief any more, and the dept has suffered ever since. ( not saying I was the best or worse they ever had but facts are….)

  8. An interesting question that I fail to understand it’s validity. Do we pose this same question for the positions of Police Chief, Dept of Publics Works, and on and on in city and town governments. These people all fill the leadership role in their organizations. Yes, I agree with one posting that spoke of knowing chiefs that shouldn’t be in the position but that’s a local function and poor hiring skills on the appointing authority. Moving on, the Chief is there to fight for the budget, propose change ad be an agent of change for their department. We, as a fire service, are responsible for our fate. We need to minimize the external factions that fail to understand our job, and get educated ourselves and educate the towns we serve.

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