Past IAFC Fire Chief of the Year winners recognize award as a team effort

Chiefs Richard "Smokey" Dyer and William Jenaway advise honorees to share the prestigious award with their entire department


By Sarah Calams

It's a well-known fact that teamwork makes the dream work, especially in the fire service.

When Fire Chiefs Richard "Smokey" Dyer and William Jenaway won the International Association of Fire Chiefs Fire Chief of the Year award, presented annually by the IAFC and Pierce Manufacturing at the general session of Fire-Rescue International, they made sure to underscore one important point: They didn't get there by themselves.

The award honors one career and one volunteer fire chief for their leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity, service to the public and contributions to the fire service.

Chiefs Richard "Smokey" Dyer and William Jenaway
Chiefs Richard "Smokey" Dyer and William Jenaway

Dyer, who served as chief for the Kansas City (Missouri) Fire Department, won the 2005 award for Career Fire Chief of the Year. He retired from the department in 2012 after 12 years at the helm. Dyer served on the Board of Directors for the IAFC for nine years and was IAFC president from 1998 to 1999.

Jenaway, chief of the King of Prussia (Pennsylvania) Volunteer Fire Company, won the 2001 award for Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year. Previously, he served as chief and fire marshal in East Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania. With 50 years of fire service experience, Jenaway also serves as president of the Board of Directors of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.

I interviewed Chiefs Dyer and Jenaway about what made them stand out from other nominees as well as their advice on what it takes to become Fire Chief of the Year.

What was your reaction upon learning that you were selected as Fire Chief of the Year?

Chief Dyer: I was humbled that our department was being honored in this fashion. I have always felt that the Fire Chief of the Year award is the highest honor that the IAFC can bestow upon a member, but I realized that the award was for the entire department and not just me. I understood that I would be receiving the award on behalf of all of the personnel of the organization.

Chief Jenaway: I went through the typical emotions – excitement, thrilled, honored and surprised. And then you think to yourself, "I really have to find out who nominated me and tell them how appreciative I am that they thought I was worthy enough to be nominated for such an award." I had been told that a couple of people nominated me, so I knew that I was at least in the mix. It was exciting.

What made you stand out from the other nominees?

Chief Dyer: I felt our department was being primarily recognized for our labor-management partnership program. Our organization had a history of having one of the most adversarial labor-management relationships in the U.S. fire service. The union had been involved in two illegal strikes and multiple labor slowdowns.

With that as our background, it was unusual that our department was one of the first within the IAFC Metropolitan Section to participate in the IAFC/IAFF labor-management training program.

We fully embraced the training and quickly developed a written labor-management agreement that more or less created a framework for shared governance of the organization. The three entities of the agreement were fire administration, the rank-and-file local, and the local representing mostly battalion fire chiefs.

Chief Jenaway: I don't know who the other nominees were. I still don't know. But one of the things that I had done since the beginning was immersing myself in the industry.

At that time, I was a member on the board of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, member of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, and was on a couple of IAFC and NFPA committees. I was getting a full grasp of what the issues were and what problems and solutions were out there.

What's the most profound memory you have of winning?

Chief Dyer: Just knowing that the IAFC would be recognizing our department for the many improvements that we had been working so hard to achieve.

Chief Jenaway: I remember a number of the previous recipients coming up to me and congratulating me. When you are placed in the same group of those individuals, it really puts into perspective that what you're doing must be making a difference because you're with individuals who you know made a difference.

What advice would you give to this year's Career and Volunteer Fire Chiefs of the Year?

Chief Dyer: I would advise the 2019 honorees to share this award with their entire department. 

Chief Jenaway: People are always trying to sway you to their perspective or lobby you into what they want done. As a chief officer, you really have to use your skills and knowledge to make the right decision.

Take the input people will provide, but make your own decisions and do what you think is going to be right. Even though this is a prestigious award and recognition that you're going to be receiving, you're also going to be expected to do even more once you receive the award. Continuing the hard work that got you to this point becomes critical and doing the right thing for the right reason becomes extremely important.

For those who aspire to win such a prestigious award, what do you believe to be the recipe for Chief of the Year success?

Chief Dyer: I do not believe that there is any recipe for obtaining this honor from our professional organization. The goal should be to be part of a department that provides excellent community service, while at the same time creating an internal ethical culture based upon being inclusive, honest, dedicated and service with honor.

It should be our goal to create an organizational atmosphere where personnel smile more than they frown. If we can help to set the vision and provide the leadership for that type of a department, the recognition and awards will be of secondary importance.

Chief Jenaway: Every chief encounters roadblocks. If you have a goal, project or initiative you want to implement and you're hitting roadblocks, then finding ways to make it through that roadblock is a sign of an individual that will bring success in the future. Maximize your performance, achieve your goals, work through those challenges and obstacles, and focus on personal growth.

Most importantly, remember that it's a team and it's not an individual. Even though you're the person who's going to be recognized, you need to be focused on the mindset of, "How do I build my team to make this achievable?" You can't get there on your own.

If you would like to nominate someone for Fire Chief of the Year, use the online form to submit your nomination today. Questions? Contact Firechiefaward@iafc.org.

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