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Chief Insights: ‘Don’t sit back and wait for things to fall into place’

Go talk to your people and establish your expectations early


Vincent Bettinazzi, battalion chief with the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department.

Courtesy photo

The following content is part of a new FireRescue1 initiative – the Fire Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new fire service leaders increase their effectiveness, enhance their leadership KSAs, develop trust among crewmembers, and build confidence. Through a handful of questions presented by FireRescue1, veteran fire service leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email to offer your insights for the Fire Leader Playbook.

What was the incident or person in your career that put you on the path to becoming a chief officer?

I think you have to walk into a 25-to-30-year career field and set some type of goal you’d like to achieve, whether that is to stay a firefighter or to promote through the ranks. I personally set mine for battalion chief. The person who has influenced my path is my current fire chief. He made me aware of opportunities and assisted me in finding successful avenues and situations that definitely helped me define the best avenues for growth.

Looking back, what did you want to accomplish, improve or make better in your first 30 days as chief, 6-months as chief and year as chief?

The first 30 days, I wanted to establish communications and set expectations. The next 6 months, I focused on learning what my team needed and delivered training to improve our operability. The first year, I reevaluated our process, checked back in with my officers for feedback, and ensured that I was meeting the expectations of my boss and subordinates.

What is the best advice you would give chiefs in their first 30 days on the job?

Everyone is anticipating that you will deliver expectations and that things will be a little different with a new leader. Don’t sit back and wait for things to fall into place or expect that everyone knows that you want. Go talk to your people and establish your expectations early. It’s amazing what you will learn and what needs you will discover by having these conversations.

If you could go back to your rookie/probie self, what would you tell them?

I would tell myself to slow down and enjoy the rookie year. I felt like the first year was rushed, and I was stressed out trying to stay busy. I’d also tell myself to ask more questions and take the time to understand processes because I treated everything so matter-of-fact back then.

Lightning round

  • What is a leadership book, podcast or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

“About Face” by Col. David Hackworth – U.S. Army. It’s an autobiography about his service from Korea through Vietnam. It is a long read, but his perspective and obsession with ensuring that his men were prepared to fight through intense training is really impactful.

  • How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?

I stay on schedule by making lists, lots of lists. Also, I try to inform other key players about events, meetings and deadlines. Establishing these forms of communication with others helps me stay on track since they are involved and gently remind me to maintain progress.

  • If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

I’d spend the money on a state-of-the-art training facility. This facility would have a large multi-story live-fire structure, as well as standpipes, elevators, attached garage, fire alarm panels, forcible entry and ventilation props for our members.

  • At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

I recharge by spending my time with family and friends. I love traveling and have to have a trip scheduled to look forward to!

Vince Bettinazzi joined the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department in 2007. He currently holds the rank of battalion chief and is assigned as a shift commander on C-Shift. Bettinazzi is a member of the department’s Ocean Rescue Team as a certified USLA lifeguard. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in 2016, and recently obtained his Chief Fire Officer Designation from CPSE. Bettinazzi is a co-host on the “Beyond the Stretch” podcast.