Where Are You, Chief?
Who or what is leading today’s fire service?
The answers to this question can be as many and as varied as the seat prices on one scheduled flight in today’s deregulated airline business; it depends only on the imagination and information of the answerer.
Most of the groups and associations positioning for the decision-making spotlight in the fire service are really staffing functions that evolved to assist or guide the fire service administrator and his membership. But in the field, command is laid at the feet of the chief. It’s obvious and it’s lonely.
Why, then, should the fire service decision-maker share the political and economic decisions with so many “equals”?
Strength lies in numbers. There are about 32,000 fire departments in the United States. If we were to assume an average of three or four chief officers per department, we’d have to figure there are 90,000 to 120,000 chief officers (leaders) in the United States.
Remarkable! Where are they? The numbers are there, but where is the unified strength?
The International Association of Fire Chiefs, which is meeting in St. Louis in August, has a membership list that has “swelled” to more than 7,(XX). No wonder others are making decisions for us. Where are you, chief?
And just as the nations’ chiefs aren’t making their presence felt as strongly as they could in the largest professional organization representing them, they risk letting their presence be overwhelmed in their own jurisdictions. With the number of fire and other emergency incidents down throughout the country—in some cities by as much as 40 percent— fire departments face competition from other agencies that are racing to the emergency scene. The fire service—the emergency service in this nation—is having its functions usurped by other agencies, whose ineptness at the scene would sometimes be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
We know we must alter our way of doing business to take into account the run numbers of today’s world. To do that, we must have leaders— people who actually do the business—to plan, direct, coordinate, and communicate. That business-doer is you, chief!
Numbers do have strength, and strength does beget numbers. The fire service puts you in command in the most difficult of times. Only you can put yourself in command of the easier times. Look toward involvement, toward numbers, toward strength, and toward leading the fire service in all its aspects. Or someone else sure will.