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. 


About managingemergencies

I am a professional consultant with 30 years of experience in managing emergencies. My background and skills gave me the foundation to start Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees contact me via email at I held various positions in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department until I retired in 2007. As a emergency planner and trainer in the Prince George's County Office of Homeland Security I planned exercises and training for government agencies and citizens groups. I was appointed Fire Chief of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department in 2009. I started Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants in June of that year. I had the opportunity to become the Assistant Fire Chief - Operations of the District of Columbia Fire/EMS Department and served for a year as the Interim Fire Chief. I am a trained mediator, mediator team leader and trainer. I also served as the Fire/EMS Department Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.
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