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Chief Insights: ‘Listen, validate and confirm before you act’

In your first 30 days as chief, focus on building your team, embracing individuals with institutional knowledge, and finding a sounding board for new ideas



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, 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.

Following are insights from Tim Sendelbach, fire chief of the Loveland (Colorado) Fire Rescue Authority.

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


Tim Sendelbach with his father.

Photo/Tim Sendelbach

As a second-generation firefighter, I can say that my dad has been the most influential figure in setting on the course to become a fire chief. On May 28, 1977, I can recall playing wiffle ball with a group of friends just below my parent’s house in Wilder, Kentucky. My dad’s chief car was parked at the end of the street a short distance from where we were playing. While we were playing, I heard sirens blaring in the distance, echoed by the house siren signaling volunteers to respond. Just as the siren began to complete its first cycle, I saw my dad running down the hill to his car before speeding off with lights and sirens blaring. My dad was responding to one of the most historic fires of my lifetime – Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire – in Southgate, Kentucky. The fire ultimately claimed the lives of 165 civilians.

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

My three priorities when I became the fire chief were, first and foremost, the safety and welfare of our people. I wanted to make sure that the workforce, line and staff knew that they were my highest priority. Before applying for the position, I did everything I could to learn about the organization and the challenges that might lie ahead.

The second priority was focused on organizational funding. As a fire authority, we have a funding model that had long been identified as the organizational Achilles heel. I recognized very early that a new funding model was critical to the future success of the organization.

Lastly, public education and prevention were my third priority. My goal was simply to tell the story of the LFRA to the public, so they could better understand their fire department and the roles we play in overseeing their safety through education, engineering, emergency response, economic incentives, and enforcement.

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

Never forget there are two pedals on the floorboard – a brake and an accelerator. Pacing is everything regardless of who you are, what you know or the level of commitment you have amongst the membership. Take advantage of your first 30 days: Listen, validate and confirm before you act. Nobody expects you to have all the answers. Build your team, embrace individuals with institutional knowledge, and find a sounding board for new ideas before sharing them with the masses.

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

Don’t frown upon politics. Despite what we watch, read and hear, politics is not all bad. In fact, I would argue it’s one of the most important tools in our toolbox. Unfortunately, far too many within our ranks project a negative opinion of the role of politics in our profession. Truth be told, politics is the secret ingredient to our success. When we play the game well through effective communications, seeking and cultivating relationships, we ultimately create influence within our community – influence that instills organizational support.

Lightning round leadership

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

How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?

  • Develop a daily routine and don’t let email or social media overwhelm your day.

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

  • A fully staffed health and wellness clinic serving all members of the organization.

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

  • Mill work – a run on the treadmill or a ride on my bike (motor or pedal power).

Tim Sendelbach is fire chief for Loveland Fire Rescue Authority. Sendelbach previously served as vice president/chief of public safety operations for Bobit Business Media, the parent company of iFIRE International. He also served as the editor-in-chief and conference director for Firehouse, overseeing the content and editorial direction of Firehouse Magazine,, Firehouse Expo, Firehouse World and related products. Sendelbach is a past-president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). He has served as an assistant fire chief with the Kingman (Arizona) Fire Department, the North Las Vegas (Nevada) Fire Department and Missouri City (Texas) Fire & Rescue Services, and as the chief of training for Savannah (Georgia) Fire & Emergency Services.