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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Career in Review Series


I’m going all the way back reviewing (for myself) my entire career on my blog. I have books of all my material but I want it in the digital format so I and my family can look back on any device. (I get it that I’m really the only one who will be looking at this stuff) So in 1983 my life changed when I got hired into the Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGFD). I had a sense I was on an upward spiral that I could only dream of at the time would turn out to be a fantastic career. My last posts started with shots of me as the Fire Chief and Interim Chief but I really wanted to capture my entire blessed career in a few posts. Being in retirement (again) I get to reminisce in a better state of mind. Looking back on my recruit era I see from the pictures and the hiring letter I received from PGFD I was on an adventure of a lifetime. Having never volunteered as a fire fighter I was learning a new language (Haligan Bar, hydrant wrench, pike pole, etc.) as well as a new culture. The fire service culture is quite unique. I could say a lot about the culture but I would be getting off track so I will mention that another day. In 1983 it was hard to imagine that there were very few African American fire fighters in Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGFD). Growing up in Washington DC I saw African American Fire Fighters all the time so I was a little taken aback when I was in recruit class and went into the stations.

The pictures show me in my dress uniform, at the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute and us preparing for a live burn. The bottom right picture was of our first structure fire burn. That day was incredible because it was vastly different from fighting fires in the burn building at the academy.

I have to say my instructors did a great job preparing me for the field. Al Gompers, Steve Allen, Darrell Odom, (just name a few instructors as my memory fails me) were well prepared to teach me and my fellow classmates. I am thankful to my instructors for introducing me to fire and emergency medical basics as well as the culture of the Department. Clearly my career demonstrated I had a great foundation. My memory of what it was like being a recruit is a little faded and thus I wish I had the internet back then to capture my career as well as my thoughts. If you are a recruit fire fighter and you are reading this or even if you are a veteran, do yourself a favor a keep a digital diary of your thoughts as well as your milestones throughout the rest of your career. You will be glad you did in the years to come. Even if I say so myself, I was one brave kid who struggled and even valiantly met the challenges of being a recruit fire fighter.

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My Career in Review

I have not posted in about two years. Much has occurred since then and I have been pretty pleased with my Fire Service career. I also ran my company for a year (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) after leaving Prince George’s County Government and was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as a State Fire Prevention Commissioner. I even found time to volunteer as the Executive Director of the “Alliance” which had as its aim to give services to volunteer companies of PGFD. I faced many challenges during the tenure of my career of thirty years and yet I have nothing but the fondest memories. I was honored to work in two different Fire Departments and spent some time leading both as the Chief Fire Official.

I realize no one can know how proud my family and I are of how hard we worked to reach my dreams but I wanted to document a career spanning over thirty years for when my children want to look back or those who had a hand in my success wanted to reminisce. The two photos are of me as Interim Chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. I truly enjoyed leading these great organizations with highly trained and dedicated men and women who served with distinction. I will highlight each position I held in successive stories. I thank my family most of all for their loving support of me as I worked many hours with no vacations and almost no time off. I loved working for the men and women of the two Departments and serving the citizens of the two jurisdictions.

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Volunteer Fire and EMS providers of Prince George’s County, Maryland have a unique opportunity to form a “trade organization” that will enable them to better position themselves in the future. The recent election of Pete Mellits as President of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association paves the way for volunteers to abandon the road to certain obsolescence for the greatness that they once had and are deserving of. President Pete Mellits fortunately is a charter member of the Alliance and he fully understands the need for volunteers to join the “Alliance.” The volunteers have lost great influence and millions of dollars because previous volunteer leaders sold their birthright for the elixir of prestige (the crack of volunteers in the County). While the previous leaders got hit after hit, when they came to themselves they find the volunteer service in jeopardy.

The “Alliance”, as it is called, is an organization that has been established to help organize the volunteers to seek solutions for their health and well being and to position themselves better at the bargaining table. Right now only Montgomery County Volunteers have successfully bargained for better treatment in the State of Maryland. The Alliance has completed most of the steps to bring power and influence to a group of dedicated individuals and their private fire and rescue corporations. The Alliance has demonstrated it has the power to chart the direction for the volunteers who were struggling under some very poor leadership. Now the volunteers need to realize that they cannot achieve their true potential through the Association alone. The Association does not have the position power, the vision or the mission to serve the needs of the volunteers today. The Association is not set up for bargaining and maintaining the rights of the volunteers. The Association is a social organization that has met the need for volunteers to get information and share information on how the corporations are doing.

The Association can highlight the needs of the volunteers but it is not a part of the fire service in a tangible way. Unlike the watered down version of the Fire Commission, (a once powerful organization) the Commission is a Charter organization of County Government. The Association is only recognized to speak on volunteer issues to those who may listen. This Alliance has been organized to create a liaison between the Volunteer First Responders and local governing bodies, to collect and evaluate data on all deleterious conditions incumbent in all areas where volunteers exist. To compile information concerning the injustices within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and implement action to address them. To promote relations of its Volunteer members throughout the Fire and Emergency Medical Services. To ensure that Volunteers are retained and recruited as First Responders, where ever they reside. To facilitate in motivating our Volunteer First Responders to seek advancement within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

“The Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association works closely with the Prince George’s County Fire Department administration to continue an excellent working relationship between career and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.” While the working relationship the Association seeks to establish and maintain dwindles everyday, the Association also has no power to carry out its stated mission. In fact whenever a substantial paid crew is added to the volunteer station, the volunteers are either run out of the station or leave because of these “working relationships.” The Association is not structured to address the volunteer’s “condition of employment” because it is not a Trade Organization. The volunteers are clearly an “instrumentality of the County Government” but they have no rights.

Volunteers have an opportunity to invest in change. Change is what is needed. The Alliance is a group of volunteers, run by volunteers with the aim of improving conditions for the volunteers. If you are a volunteer (any town USA) do you have any rights in your jurisdiction? Who is bargaining for your health and safety? What is your service worth? It is not that the citizens don’t want fire fighters to earn a good living and have good benefits. They contract with paid fire fighters year after year. (And the benefits are great.) The fact is the volunteers never ask for anything but equipment to do their jobs. That’s fair. You want equipment and you get that. Is there anything else you need? Never mind I suspect you have no bargaining power either.

If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at for a free consultation.

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Volunteer Fire Fighters and Politics – Power without Pursuasion

Some of the most powerful people in Prince George’s County came from the Fire/EMS Department, growing from among the ranks of the volunteers. Volunteers have produced mayors, council members and well connected community leaders. Today volunteers struggle just to ride on calls. The Mayor of the most powerful city in Prince George’s County (Mayor Moe) and former Mayor Robinson of the same city are shining examples of what volunteers are capable of. Former Councilman Jim Estepp who ruled the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department for fourteen years was a volunteer who climbed the proverbial ladder to achieve the rank of Fire Chief. Later he became the County’s first Public Safety Director, a feat accomplished by few Fire Chief’s in the United States.

Where did that political savvy go? Clearly volunteers are a part of the community so it is easy to deduce that volunteers should achieve at the same level of any member of society. It should also be clear that volunteer fire fighters are different from the average citizen. Not that volunteers are better people but they are exposed to situations that allow them to operate and develop at a high level. Today even though the number of volunteers are shrinking due to a loss of identity among its leaders, they still have the same experiences as did the volunteers of the past. Even with superior numbers compared to police and paid fire fighters and at one point even rivaled the number of teachers, the volunteers find that they are a group with power but no persuasion in politics.

In trying to understand why they lack persuasion with the power that they are capable of generating, I have carried on a number of conversations with various volunteer leaders in the County. I even had a chance to speak with and listen to the Executive Director of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association in Montgomery County, Maryland. I saw that volunteers in Prince George’s County lack vision for the future. In Montgomery County, which is adjacent to Prince George’s County in Maryland, the volunteers decided to be more organized ten years ago. Their efforts to tame the desire for independence among their companies paid off dramatically. The volunteers in Montgomery County are far more respected in their jurisdiction that their counterparts in Prince George’s County.

It may have never really been a goal of the volunteers in Prince George’s County to be a political force. It is partly understandable since volunteers are focused on serving others and sacrificing their lives for the good of the community. Unfortunately, the political savvy of those who have gone before the volunteers of today did not rub off. The way of the volunteer is being threatened by time and competition. While paid employees of most jurisdictions are “unionized” and command a lion’s share of the resources, the volunteers out maneuver each other for the scraps left over after all the negotiations are done.

Volunteer leaders of today need to contact those politically savvy mayors and other elected officials to gain an understanding of how to find their way back to being a relevant, powerful and persuasive force so they can thrive in the future. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at for a free consultation.

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