Chiefs, check your personal preferences at the door and do what’s right

We can’t make good progress as a fire service with leaders making decisions based on likes instead of needs


Welcome to Fired Up!, a column where I sound off on the fire service hot topics of the day. Have an idea for me? Email editor@firerescue1.com for consideration.

We recently released “Pass It On 3: Making Good Progress” as the third and final book in the “Pass It On” series. If you are unfamiliar with the books, I essentially pulled together a few hundred fire service folks who provide their best “been there, done that” advice.

My point of the title was that, overall, the fire service continues to make good progress. And why wouldn't we? Our focus is to do good for those who need us quickly, during their worst time.

The good and bad of what we do gets passed on from crew to crew, shift to shift and generation to generation with the hope that we do better every time we roll out the door.

The good and bad of what we do gets passed on from crew to crew, shift to shift and generation to generation with the hope that we do better every time we roll out the door. (Photo/Drew Smith, Herald Democrat)
The good and bad of what we do gets passed on from crew to crew, shift to shift and generation to generation with the hope that we do better every time we roll out the door. (Photo/Drew Smith, Herald Democrat)

Progress for our “players”

Unfortunately, every once in a while, the message doesn't get passed on, the focus on what's best for the public is missed, and an event occurs that just blows us away. Whenever that kind of stuff happens, I think of my favorite two football coaches: Vince Lombardi and Lou Holtz. 

Now, make no mistake about it, I'm not a huge football fan, but I am a huge fan of the coaches and how they get their players to succeed. These non-nonsense, no-BS coaches understood the importance of leading a team to a win.

“… the quality of the decision and the commitment behind the execution of the decision determines your results.” – Coach Vince Lombardi

This quote will prove relevant with the forthcoming example of some seriously terrible chief-level decision-making that serves only to impede fire service progress.

Personality-based mutual aid

Over the years, I've written a few words on a topic that fires me up more than most – personality-based mutual aid. This occurs when a chief or incident commander (IC) calls for help based only on what they personally like, not the needs on the scene. 

For example, it's the volunteer chief or IC who won't call that nearby paid department because they might actually beat their crew to the fire. It's the career chief or IC who won't call the nearby volunteer department because they are, after all, just volunteers. It's the “whatever” fire officer who hasn't planned for or is not focused on what is best to fix that civilian’s problem ASAP. It's the officer who allows their personal feelings and attitudes to interfere with doing what's right. Why? “Because I'm the chief, that's why!”

Of course, there are valid reasons for not calling the closest department, but those are rare, and a genuine effort to help fix the problem is often missing. Where there is a will, there is a way.

In case we’ll discuss here, the call for mutual-aid help was done strictly for fun. 

Fireground or fire playground? 

A few weeks ago, three different friends of mine reached out (within minutes of each other!), sharing the same exact story.

It seems that few years ago, when a suburban volunteer fire chief was elected to office, he told some friends of his (in the same county) that he would call them on mutual aid … someday. He hoped he would have a fire so big that he would have to call in departments from all over the county to help. Fortunately, that big fire never occurred during his term.

But earlier this year, during that chief's last month in elected office, his volunteer fire department responded to a small garage fire. Remembering his time as chief was limited, he decided to call in for mutual aid.

Wait, from where? From two volunteer fire departments that were well over 20 miles away. He ordered them to respond, lights and sirens, passing the many dozens of closer volunteer firehouses to respond into his town: “Come join us for our detached garage fire … 27 miles away!” Apparently it was just for the fun of it. 

Understandably, the county fire communication dispatchers handling the call questioned the chief about why he was ordering mutual aid from so far away. The chief apparently told them to just do as he said because he was “busy fighting a fire.”

Call whoever ya like, whenever ya like, cause it's good to be the king, right? Sure, that’s exactly what our citizens expect.

Enough is enough

The good news is that some members of the county did not think the “long-distance mutual aid, just for the fun of it” circus was fun or funny. As one person said, "Finally, someone is pissed off.”

As a matter of fact, in a display of aggressive leadership and disgust, that county fire commission (and its chair) called out that chief, the new chief and the community’s elected leadership. They called out the chief for his “dangerous, irresponsible and unprofessional actions.” They censured the department for their doing “anything but good firefighting practices,” and the county fire commission stated to the new chief, “… we hope and pray under your direction, as chief of department, a more serious approach to firefighting and to the safety of not only your members, but the members of other departments, will be practiced.”

While limited in authority and scope, that county fire commission demonstrated leadership by holding those involved accountable – accountable as far as documenting the game-playing and making sure that all those involved and responsible are made aware of their responsibility … and their liability. They did SOMETHING. And often SOMETHING results in making good progress. And progress is almost always a good thing. 

“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it.” – Coach Lou Holtz

Author’s Note

Thanks to each of you who own a copy of “Pass It On: What We Know … We Want You to Know” and “Pass It On: The Second Alarm,” as we have raised thousands of dollars for the Deputy Chief Raymond Downey Scholarship Charity Fund, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

“Pass It On 3: Making Good Progress” is no different, with 100% of proceeds again being donated. It should also be noted that every contributing author did the same, not making any money on this book.

Featuring about 80 contributors, “Pass It On 3” provides as diverse a range of fire service-based opinions and experiences as possible. I received my copy last week and am so appreciative for the contributors and all the work they did. It's really fantastic and I promise that you will not be disappointed.

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