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Chief Insights: ‘Respect must be earned’

Remember that it is the person behind the badge, not the badge itself, that truly matters

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“We only have one shot at this fantastic career and life, so let’s make the most of it, enjoy it, and be great at what we do,” Frodge writes.

Photo/Chad Costa

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 Assistant Chief Chad Costa.

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

Throughout my career, I discovered my passion for leadership and improving organizations. While fighting fires and helping people satisfied me, I found implementing processes and making positive changes equally fulfilling. Witnessing the growth and improvement of an organization and its people is truly unique and brings me great joy.

There wasn’t a specific incident or person that led me to become a fire chief, but rather my desire to lead and make a difference. However, I have found inspiration in the work of others.

One individual who stands out is Chief Daniel Muncey of the San Bernardino County (California) Fire Department. When I decided to pursue a leadership role, I reached out to him via email despite never having spoken to him before. Although he may not have known who I was, I saw him as a kindred spirit based on his leadership style, which I had read about in various articles. Despite my youth, I found his approach to be particularly compelling.

Shortly after sending the email, I received a response saying that the fire chief would call me later that evening. As promised, he called, and we spoke for an hour. During the conversation, he offered me valuable advice and shared pointers on paving a path toward a leadership position. The fact that a busy fire chief took the time to speak with me and provide guidance left a lasting impression. I now strive to emulate this same generosity and willingness to mentor others. This is a value that I hold dear and try to live by every day.

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

Reflecting on my first year as a company officer, I focused on the engine company and crew I worked with. My top priority was to ensure efficiency and quality so that we could provide a high level of customer service and be recognized as a reliable crew. These priorities have remained with me throughout my career, although they have evolved slightly as I have moved up the ranks and gained more experience.

Ultimately, I aim to provide excellent service and create a family-like atmosphere where everyone enjoys working and working together. As I have grown older and gained more experience, I have realized that it is crucial to emphasize taking care of people, including myself. If we are not enjoying what we do, everything else tends to suffer.

What advice would you give the chiefs in their first 30 days?

To any newly promoted chief officer, my advice would be to remain humble and not view themselves as having obtained a higher position of power. Merely holding the title of “chief” does not mean they have all the answers or must make drastic changes. Respect must be earned through actions, attitudes and treatment of others. It is essential to approach the new role to earn respect rather than feel entitled. While decisions must be made, it is crucial to remember that it is the person behind the badge, not the badge itself, that truly matters.

What would you tell them if you could return to your rookie/probie self?

If I was blessed to have the opportunity to return to my first year on the job, I would start by telling myself that time flies faster than we can imagine. In no time, we will look back and wonder where all the years have gone. That’s why it’s important to remind ourselves to take a break, be patient and appreciate our growth opportunities. We can learn a lot from our colleagues and not be too hard on ourselves for not having all the answers. It’s not our sole responsibility to make every decision. Instead, we should enjoy every moment and soak it all in. Life is too short to let it pass us by without taking care of ourselves and our families. We only have one shot at this fantastic career and life, so let’s make the most of it, enjoy it, and be great at what we do.

Lightning round leadership

What is a leadership book, podcast, or seminar you’ve found invaluable?
“Leadership On The Line: Staying Alive Through The Dangers Of Change” by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?
My Outlook Inbox and calendar. My inbox is my to-do list, and my calendar is my schedule.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?
Station – living space upgrades. I would ensure that our firefighters’ homes/stations are improved to the highest modern standards.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?
I spend time with my family and spend time outdoors.

Chad Costa is assistant chief with the City of Petaluma (California) Fire Department. With 20 years of fire service experience, Costa has worked in a variety of organizations, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), rural districts, semi-rural districts and a city. He is the technology and communications battalion chief and a division group supervisor on California Interagency Team 5. Costa has a bachelor’s degree in emergency services management and a certificate in homeland security.