Key to becoming Chief – Climbing the ladder – seek out the advice those who made it.


Ask the everyday chief level officer what the Fire Chief’s job is and they can’t tell you. They know it’s a rank or two or three above them but that’s all they know. Most of them have no idea how to prepare for the top spot. Go to any gallery of pictures of the “Chiefs” and you will see a few pictures over many years. Many speculate on how this one or that one got there as they observe the pictures but in the end they know they will never see their own face up there.

It’s not a secret on how to get to the top it’s just hard work and dedication. It has all to do with knowing your craft better than anyone else in the organization. It’s about being one of the best communicators in the service. It’s about those who matter seeing that you are the one. As President Trump fills his cabinet we see some of the same people who have served the Country well for years being given another opportunity to serve at the top of the Agency/Department. They are the best and brightest in the business. Whether Democrat or Republican their peers agree that the nominee is a top-notch professional and a high achievers.

Instead of spending your time in the peanut gallery with those who (secretly) bemoan the fact that they will never amount to anything in the organization or the service, focus on your own career. No one has ever been promoted because they were the most vocal critic or writes the best Facebook post on why the Chief is an idiot. It gets a few laughs but in the end people are taking notes on how foolish is the one who spends their time criticizing others while they themselves achieve nothing. I run into people all the time who wish they had worked harder at promoting up through the ranks. I listen to people who wish their retirement checks were bigger if they had only studied for that next promotion.

Not everyone wants to be Chief, nor can they be. Everyone has their place in the service and can serve just as honorably as any chief level officer. But this article is not for them. This article is for the people who in their heart believe that they can contribute to the service in a manner that only a few can achieve. Keep striving and keep climbing. Seek out those who have held the position and ask them how they got to the top. I interviewed many chief level officers as I rose through the ranks. I learned about the principles and practices of being a successful chief officer. I served among the best and learned their ways. Even today those Chiefs are among the most influential men in the Fire Service.

Consider what President Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

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MWCOG Chairman McDuffie gets it right

“Workers used to follow jobs, but an increasing number of companies are following talent, which is a competitive advantage for our region,” said Kenyan McDuffie, COG Board of Directors Chairman and…

Source: MWCOG Chairman McDuffie gets it right

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MWCOG Chairman McDuffie gets it right

“Workers used to follow jobs, but an increasing number of companies are following talent, which is a competitive advantage for our region,” said Kenyan McDuffie, COG Board of Directors Chairman and District of Columbia Councilmember. “Area leaders need to build on this strength by ensuring that more of our residents are prepared for the high-quality jobs that these companies are creating.”

County Executive Baker in his 2035 Plan also points to the richness that residents of the various communities in Prince George’s County bring to the region. One overlooked segment of our society is the value that volunteer fire departments bring to the table. The Morningside Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD), for example, which has been targeted by various people to reduce its effectiveness, is actually thriving because people see that the educational programs and training gets them jobs.  Many members have come from all over the Country to MVFD and received Federal funds for education, hands on training and mentoring and are snapping up jobs in the regional fire & police departments. Unfortunately, local residents are not getting the benefits at the rate of people from Pennsylvania, Florida and the Midwest because the volunteer companies are not valued by the Fire/EMS Department Officials in the County. Various political pressures (that lack good sense) put burdens on volunteer corporations to purposefully diminish them. Citizens are discouraged from volunteering locally and County efforts to recruit residents are minimal at best. For example, students who seek to volunteer for training in Prince George’s County are forbidden to join volunteer companies. (How strange is that?)

The amount of money the Federal Government is pumping into volunteer corporations is staggering. Since the volunteer service makes up about 70% of the workforce in this nation, when it comes to public safety, it is clear the Federal Government understands that a healthy volunteer service is vital to the nation’s readiness. Recently, Pennsylvania has renewed its commitment to volunteerism and funding is being ramped up in that State to strengthen volunteer companies.

“For two centuries we’ve been known as the ‘Federal Capital,’ but the data is now telling us a different story about metropolitan Washington—in the twenty-first century we’re the ‘Human Capital’ region,” said Chuck Bean, COG Executive Director.

Volunteers in Prince George’s County while greatly diminished in recent years are trying every effort to maximize people who join their ranks. Morningside VFD has seen volunteer participation increase greatly since it has become 100% volunteer and the Feds and State governments have rewarded them accordingly with support. Mike Poetker, Volunteer Chief of MVFD, has a great vision for his organization and has expanded his organization’s capability to providing emergency medical services. Due to the increased funding from the Federal Government and increased EMS members, Morningside VFD is seeking to put a second ambulance in service. Most days members have no unit to ride because there are more volunteers than seats to fill so they take turns running calls. The EMS Committee is gaining momentum and has requested a support vehicle from the County to improve EMS Operations. The request has yet to be filled but members are hopeful. EMS services are so strapped that the County has to go on alert everyday because they are short of EMS units. Morningside has a viable solution and hopefully the County will respond favorably to Morningside’s requests. Adding an additional ambulance and support unit makes sense. The ladder truck which the Chief swears will never go in service is also vital to the future of the community fire protection program and job training. Hopefully the future administration will see the current lack of capability in Prince George’s County and approve the additional truck. It makes no sense that the County has no reserve fleet for all unit types and Morningside and other companies are willing to purchase new vehicles worth millions but the County says it doesn’t need the units.

“Area leaders must continue to invest in the creation of quality places—centers of activity and opportunity around our region that will appeal to the future workforce—while also working together to maximize the wealth of talent that is already here,” said Chuck Bean, COG Executive Director. That is exactly what Morningside is hoping will happen with the incoming Chief of PGFD. We at Morningside appreciate the influx of people across the Country that see the richness of paid fire/police departments in the area and their willingness to relocate here to take advantage of the opportunities. We are also reaching out to the community here in Prince George’s County and hope the administration will support Morningside’s initiatives to provide more riding positions so more people can be trained. It will work to the benefit of the community as well as MVFD.


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It’s hard to believe that in 2013 I wrote about the decline of the Prince George’s County Volunteers and how that decline continues today. I guess no one heeded the “Call to Action.” The factors related to the decline are hard to untangle because I do not know which came first, the decline of the Volunteers or the forces of societal neglect of its valuable resources. Maybe its due to the society we live in today that has lost confidence in the volunteer or combination system? Is that the correct assessment? Maybe the schemes of those who benefit from the decline (not the public) have finally lulled an overburdened public to sleep to the need for higher taxes and diminished service to their own demise.

Like the issue of clean drinking water, we will find ourselves wondering in the future how did we allow things to become so unsafe.  Who will be the one to blame for the decline in Public Safety? Who will be the blame for the lack of a progressive public education system which was before offered by volunteer corporations to thousands of people every year in Prince George’s County. Education you cannot get from public institutions no less. No hands on training for citizens exists outside of the private institutions which only offers it to members unless you pay for it. Soon the Federal and State Government will offer more training and education dollars to the citizens of Prince George’s County. Eventually, the County citizens will not have equal access to Federal and State dollars like all other Counties in Maryland. Like the District of Columbia, that has no public institution that can offer to its citizens quality, progressive, advanced education in the Fire Service, Emergency Medical Services or Fire Science, because of the lack of the private institutions previously providing training. Soon Prince George’s County citizens like those in the District will have no chance of getting the jobs in the Fire/EMS Service in their own jurisdiction because elected officials think “paying for such services ensures a higher quality service. ” No one focuses on how all paid services seriously diminishes opportunities for all residents within the jurisdiction to the very jobs their tax dollars support.

Our community leaders and elected officials seem to believe that quality volunteer organizations cannot exist side by side with government services; which have strained budgets resulting in the public being in jeopardy of not being able to get service because the government option is too expensive.

While the rest of the Country’s fire service is 70 percent volunteer, big cities and Counties have opted for the most expensive and least effective service (all paid). Sure this is not a popular subject because it makes those in office ask themselves a basic question, who in their right mind would opt to pay for a service that they can for free? And then when they look in the mirror they know the answer to that question. I get it, we pay more because we equate cost with quality. Besides, who is it that decides we do not need volunteers? Who decides that we should pay more for less? Who says we are not getting quality with a combination system? The same type of people in Michigan that said the water is better if we process it a different way. Those type of people ignore the facts and leave it up to people who do not know their craft. Who fact checks the Fire Service in our community? All the great men elected to President encourage the citizenry to volunteer for the community while 30% of the leaders elected to office in this Country discourage volunteerism for some reason, especially in majority-minority communities that have the highest death rate due to fires. In Maryland, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have more fire deaths than all the jurisdictions in Maryland combined. (This is why I write about this.) Oh yeah, majority-minority communities in Maryland pay the highest taxes for fire protection to boot. Yes, we hire more fire fighters and die the most in fires. (Brilliant)

Well Prince George’s County dig deep into your extra money to pay more taxes for higher “quality services.” I’m not against higher taxes. I benefit from higher taxes but at least I am honest about it. I think we should pay higher taxes because I am a believer in more government. Like I want clean drinking water and I want someone more qualified than I to make sure we get it. I’m not sure that type of thinking works in the Fire Service though. I am sure it’s the opposite. The more we pay for fire and Emergency Medical Services the less service we get and that is a measurable fact.

No one counts the cost of lack of opportunity for jobs or the diminished preparedness culture because the misconception that paid public servants will handle everything during disasters. Before we let the combination system degrade beyond recovery a public hearing on its decline should be convened. One has to wonder why our elected officials are silent on decline of the combination system in our County? Maybe they are silent on the Fire Service because we are improving in that area? In either case silence is not service. Octavia Butler said, “Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” I am sure the people of Flint wished that someone had not chosen silence, but they are now all too familiar with politics that we love more than our very selves. The “Politics” surrounding public health and safety is always the best route. (Not). Oh and the Volunteers have been silent. How’s that working for you. Oh that’s right you’ve improved relations in the political arena as promised for your silence. (Not as well.)


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Keys to Position Yourself to Become Fire Chief (The Series)

Leadership Preparation (When do you start believing in yourself?)

The first step to believing that “you are the one” is to know yourself. No one can answer that question for you. Yes there are a lot of critics, but you must be your most ardent critic. No one can be harder on yourself than you. If you can be your worst critic and stand up to your own scrutiny then others people’s opinion is just that. We were raised to be open to the opinion of others from birth. Teachers, Guidance Counselors, Peer Pressure, Parents and all segments of society will be your judge. You must learn to keep all that in context. Sure, at each level of the process of advancing your career you will be judged by others on whether or not you should advance to the next rank. Your preparation period will get you through that.

During my career I heard many people say, “I didn’t study hard to prepare for the exam.” I knew they were in essence saying they did not believe the effort was necessary in their minds. They may have been their harshest critic and decided they were not the one to lead. Many people expressed they did not want the responsibility of the lives of other people in their hands. As I climbed the ladder some people decided that I was not “the one” and pronounced their judgement in various forums (promotional tests, firehouse banter etc.) One thing I had going for me was access to great leaders who could guide me through the process and others who I could model and learn from.

Talking to those who are where you want to be is key achieving great success. Of course these photos are of great men who demonstrated visual success but obviously, I had great examples throughout the ranks that contributed to my success as well. The point is that I could examine the professional life of great Fire Service leaders and figure out what characteristics I needed to cultivate within myself in order to rise to their level. I could see that I had what it took to be chosen as a leader.

I am encouraging those who desire to elevate through the ranks to examine yourself to not only consider the opinion of the naysayers but consider those who encourage you to move forward. People on a regular basis point out that they have to prove the naysayers wrong. I focused on those who said to me “Yes you can.” I wanted to be brave and fearless like those I saw in life who believed they were “the one.” In the end you must answer that question for yourself. Improve your inner conversation and most of all communicate with God on your decision in becoming the one. After all, every great leader says, …So help me God when entering Public Office.

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Keys to Position Yourself to Become Fire Chief (The Series)

Public Speakingdsc_1439

Most people express that they have a fear of speaking in public. In order to gain that experience I had to reflect on what my fears were about public speaking and how I could overcome them. The first thing I did was to consider if I had something worthwhile to say. I knew my subject because I had many years of content that I had gathered through my experiences and classroom learning about my subject.

Secondly, I had a passion about my subject. I knew the need for my point of view was extremely important and the audience needed to hear what I had to say. I believed that I could help save lives through my ability to educate people on how they could prevent fires from occurring in their lives by practicing basic fire prevention techniques. Because the Fire Service is a very significant part of local government spending, I was confident we could influence our neighbors, who we may share space with, to also practice fire safe behaviors to reduce the potential for fire loss/fire deaths.

Thirdly, I was willing to practice not only in the mirror and on video taped practice sessions but to take every opportunity to speak in front of others. Vince Lombardi the Hall of Famed and Legendary Football Coach said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” His teachings and penchant for perfect practice can be applied to your quest to be a better public speaker.



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Do the up and coming fire service personnel have what it takes to move the service forward?

You are a current employee/member of the fire service. As you view the activities within the organizations that make up the department, behind the scenes outside of the view of the public and the media, do you see the service being advanced? Do you see decline and with that decline you are not sure about your future, your pension and your benefits? Are you giving the current leaders a pass as you fight or protest forces and activities that have no bearing on your progress? Are you looking the other way as you sense you are being failed by the leaders you follow or elect?

It is easy to oppose some policy or procedures about chain of command, the placement of units in service or influencing the promotional process, including the appointment of executive chief officers. But what is the state of our retirement benefits, are we covered if we get occupational illnesses or are we on track to improve our staffing posture?

You were handed a service that was respected and benefits were accrued well beyond other industries. Reflect on the real issues and where we are headed as a service in the next five years. How have we done in the last five years?

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